By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Count on Dallas Children's Theater to do more than just mail it in with The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, based on the popular kids' book by Jeff Brown. The musical adaptation, directed and choreographed by Michael Serrecchia (with an assist from Megan Kelly Bates), makes a slick, three-dimensional, 75-minute adventure out of the tale of a 10-year-old boy suddenly squished paper-thin and then sent on around-the-world trips via first-class stamps.
College student Clinton Greenspan sticks comfortably to the title role of Stanley Lambchop, who solos with the usual first act "wish song" about wanting to experience wonderful things. Greenspan is a good singer and a likable presence in a strong cast of professional grown-ups: local theater veteran B.J. Cleveland as Stanley's dad; Natalie Weaver as the mom; comedy gem Andy Baldwin in several funny roles, including Stanley's geeky brother; and Deborah Brown as the giggly mail carrier who delivers Stanley to Paris, Hawaii and other locales before he's mailed back to his home address.
Of course, it's silly, but it's for kids, those little unspoiled Homo sapiens not yet calloused to the charms of lyrics such as "flat like a pancake, like a Wheat Thin, like the Earth before Columbus." The musical's book by Timothy Allen McDonald updates the material with pop culture references the chilluns will get. Song lyrics by McDonald and Jonathan K. Waller are pleasant without tipping too far into cutesiness. Music by Waller, McDonald, David Weinstein and Stephen Gabriel is bouncy if not particularly memorable.
The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley
Continues through June 2 at Dallas Children's Theater, 5938 Skillman St. Call 214-740-0051.
Continues through May 19 at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Call 214-880-0202.
What keeps Flat Stanley flying is the enormous size and fast pace of DCT's excellent production. Scenery by Bob Lavallee layers bold colors and interesting angles into the Lambchops' house, inside and out, plus a wing of the Louvre (complete with talking Mona Lisa), the Hawaiian surf and a leafy tree filled with birdies that bob along to the music. Lighting by Linda Blase complements actors and scenery, with subtle changes to direct the young audience's attention from scene to scene (her work is always terrific in this theater). Costumer Lyle Huchton has even figured out a visual trick for making Stanley look "flat." Then later in the play, another effect turns him back into a "real boy."
As fresh as it is as a modern musical for children, the message of Flat Stanley remains charmingly retro: how fun it is to send and receive letters by snail mail. Big sigh for generations growing up texting and emailing and who may never know the old-fashioned joy of a handwritten missive. XOXO.
Whole lotta twerking going on in Fela!, the Broadway musical whose national tour is now steaming up the Winspear Opera House. The dancing in this show is hotness on a whole other scale from other Broadway hits. Bill T. Jones' nonstop choreography fills Fela! with an athletic eroticism centered roundly on the callipygian curves of the male and female dancers.
For two and a half hours, the flow of movement, with and against the rhythms of the music, is so invitingly sexy, you'll want to shake your own groove thing. And you're invited to do just that in the number "B.I.D. (Breaking It Down)," when audience members are asked to get on their feet and follow the bouncing booties. (Oh, Winspear-goers, dare to stop being uptight for five minutes!)
Similar in storytelling and scenic style to Jersey Boys, Fela! (pronounced FAY-lah) sings and dances the life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-'97), a Nigerian pop star and political revolutionary whose musical sound was borne of European jazz, African rhythms and American mid-century pop and jazz greats, including Gene Krupa, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane and James Brown. (The above-the-title producers of Fela! are some current American showbiz luminaries: Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.)
Adesola Osakalumi, who performed in the Broadway production, is Fela here (alternating with Duain Richmond). Angry one moment, wildly flirty the next, Osakalumi has feline grace as a dancer and a powerful presence as he narrates his character's life. Passions for music and women (Fela married 27 of them, represented by a third that many onstage) are foremost in this show, which was conceived by Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel, inspired by Carlos Moore's biography of Fela.
The first act pounds through a joyous concert framed as Fela's last in his Lagos nightspot, The Shrine. The second act recounts his encounters with Nigerian death squads and his own passing (while not mentioning that it was from AIDS). His dramatic ascension to the heavyside layer (as it was called in Cats) brings forth stellar solos by co-stars Michelle Williams (of Destiny's Child fame) as Sandra, the American with whom Fela fell in love, and Melanie Marshall as Fela's beloved mother, Funmilayo. What voices!
If the pristine, fancified architecture of the Winspear doesn't lend itself easily to the atmosphere of a smoky African nightclub, well, suspend your disbelief and just go with it. And when Fela yells, "Say yeah-yeah!," say it back. Say it loud. And get up and dance.