OREM — Many children love airplanes. They excitedly point them out and often spread their arms are pretend to be flying. My child is no exception in a love for planes. So when I learned that the SCERA’s theatre for young audience production of Captain Louie involved a plane, I decided to take along my young co-pilot for a test flight into the world of theatre.
Captain Louie is based on the The Trip by Ezra Jack Keats. This musical stage adaption, with book by Anthony Stein and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, tells the story of Louie, a young boy who has recently moved to a new neighborhood. He misses his old neighborhood, and decides to use his imagination to fly back with his favorite red plane. He arrives on Halloween night and spends the evening playing and trick or treating with his old friends and the new kid in their neighborhood.
The opening curtain revealed the entire cast singing and dancing to the opening number “New Kid in the Neighborhood.” The cast did well at making this opening scene something young children could relate to. Still, I would have liked to see more energy in this opening number to better pull in the young audience it’s geared for. However, the energy greatly increased as Big Red, Louie’s airplane, was rolled out on stage for the musical number “Big Red Plane.” I loved this musical number, as it captured a child’s imagination on stage—and my child’s imagination in the audience. The large red was well designed for convenience of moving on and off stage, with wings that folded up. As the propeller began to spin my child became even more excited. As the cast sang and danced they held lights in their outstretched arms, which added to illusion that Louie was flying through stars at night.
The next number “A Welcome for Louie” confused me a bit. I knew that the kids in this scene where supposed to Louie’s old neighborhood pals, but this scene I couldn’t tell if the kids where excited to see Louie, or if they were getting ready to jump him. I believe that the cast at this point was trying to be sneaking and tricky for Halloween, but I lost the excitement to see Louie in the sneaky trickiness. As the scene played out, however, I was able to forget my initial confusion. I wonder if I would have been less confused at this point if I had read the original story this script was based on.
Eric Smith played Louie/Captain Louie. He did a solid performance, and was satisfying at playing an imaginative child. There were moments, such as in the opening number, where I would have like a bit more energy to help me connect more quickly to Louie. It’s hard to play a sad character and keep up energy. Louie really came to life once he started to use his imagination. As I watched the cast, I really enjoyed the performance of Roberta/Mouse played by Laura Chapman. She was the obvious leader of the gang of kids. Her energy and facial expression pulled strongly throughout the entire one-hour production. One of my favorite moments was when she gives Louie a quick kiss and all the kids on stage start hooting and hollering. It was a true to life moment of how kids would have reacted in that moment, and Roberta was quick to jump back into her tough kid shoes.
I also was impressed with the voice of Jacom Clarkson, who play Ziggy/Monster. He had a great vocal range. His low notes added character to “Shadows,” while his upper range did the same to other numbers. Another cast member, Daisy Allred, reinforced to the ensemble numbers with her solid and strong voice. Her character, Kid, was a little out of place, however; Allred’s character was the only character not listed in the script. I could see and hear why she was chosen to be in the cast, but I felt that the costume designer (Kelsey Seaver) and director Delayne Bluth Dayton could have done more to help her blend in with the scripted characters. For example, her costume for the Halloween scenes did not seem like a kid Halloween costume. There was a flower, a mouse, and a monster, but I had no idea what she was supposed to be. Additionally, a couple of other non-speaking cast ensemble would have made her less distracting as the only non-verbal role.
Shawn Mortensen designed the functional and colorful set, which gives Captain Louie‘s young audience plenty to look at without being over stimulating or distracting. Props, designed by Christy Norton, also added to story and functioned as needed. I’m not sure which of these two designers was responsible for the creation of the big red plane, but it looked great and strengthened the production.
Overall, Captain Louie was an enjoyable little show for its young audience. The things that distracted me from a fully satisfying experience were not an issue for my child, who has talked about the show many times in the days after seeing it. The message of the show is sweet, and could be helpful for children going through the process of moving to a new neighborhood. I’d really love to see this cast perform for an auditorium packed with kids, as I feel they would truly come alive for a kid heavy audience.