SOUTH SALT LAKE — I am constantly on the lookout for new holiday traditions for myself and my two daughters. Going to a show would undoubtedly be on my list, but having a 3-year-old makes that difficult. Thanks to the Utah Children’s Theatre, my daughters and I have a new tradition.
Utah Children’s Theatre boasts on their website that they have been producing Toyland for the holidays since 1987. With the local theatres often saturated with productions of A Christmas Carol or other common shows, I am surprised that this fun classic is overlooked. Although many people are aware of the Disney movie version of the same name, this stage version has been adapted for young, interactive audiences in an excellent way.
The first thing that I enjoyed was the fact that in the beginning of the show, one of the staff members, came out and instructed the children about good behavior when attending a play. She discussed applauding, shouting cheers, and standing. She also discussed how to pay attention, and did it in such a kind way that the children in the audience seemed all too anxious to comply. My own three-year-old excitedly stood and clapped along with the older kids in the audience.
As the show started, I was very impressed with the set design (James Parker) and costumes (Christina Wilson). In the story there are many different popular nursery rhymes brought to life, and the costumes reflected each quite well. One of the best was the costume for Humpty Dumpty, which brought laughter and applause each time it came on stage, especially when the actress, Lucy Holmgren, walked on the stage. Other excellent costumes included the sheep, the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, the toy soldiers, the boogie men, and Little Bo Peep. The set also reflected the bright colors and whimsical nature of these fairy tales.
My older daughter, who is seven, also attended the production with me, and according to her, Little Bo Peep, played by Angie Call, was “the best part of the show.” Call has an excellent, angelic quality to her voice. Her first number was a song that she sang with the children in the cast preparing to attend school, and the song as well as the choreography was very engaging. I also really enjoyed Tom Tom, played by Bryan Hague. Hague has a deep, engaging voice, something I would expect from an actor playing a knight in shining armor. He also has a strong singing voice, and the duet that he sang with Call in the first act was very entertaining.
Most of the cast was engaging, and it was obvious that the director, Jennifer Hohl, has great expertise and understanding in how to engage an audience of children. Many moments were directed in such a way that even though the show ran about two hours including intermission, most of the audience, including my own rambunctious three-year-old, were able to maintain attention and interest during the entire performance. For example, in one moment the cast came out into the audience, which pleased many children. At another time, many of the children were invited be a part of the action, and it strengthened the interactive nature of the play.
While my seven-year-old maintained her fondness for Bo Peep, my other daughter and I thought that Spencer Hohl stole the show as Rumple, a role he apparently played for seven years in a row—with good reason. Rumple describes himself as a “nasty” elf, and that line became a running joke throughout the show. Spencer Hohl displayed a great deal of comedic timing, and that timing is extremely vital in a program meant for children. There were many moments where the actor would remind the children just how “nasty” he was, often returning to the stage just to say “nasty,” which of course elicited laughter and applause from the children. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay is that for the next two days, my three-year-old would peek her head into whatever room I was in, shout, “nasty!” and then run away giggling. Leaving that sort of impression on a young mind is exactly what children’s theatre should do.
Parents of young children should really consider giving the Utah Children’s Theatre a try. I was a little apprehensive of how my younger child would handle a production, but I am completely pleased with the way they developed the show with children. Indeed, I am glad that my little ones have an excellent way to be introduced to the magic of live theatre. Attending this production at Christmas time is something I hope my children and I can enjoy as a tradition for many years to come.