Busytown, The Musical at the Children’s Theatre Company

Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund in Busytown, The Musical. Photo by Dan Norman.

Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund in Busytown, The Musical. Photo by Dan Norman.

You will be no doubt unsurprised to learn that Busytown, The Musical (Childrens Theatre Co., through Oct 26) is busy.

Based on the popular series of books by Richard Scarry, and niftily adapted by Kevin Kling, Busytown takes place in CTC-Land where everything is eye-blastingly colorful, scenery-chewingly over-sized, shriekingly shrill and, as long as you don’t expect too much by way of meaning, delightfully sweet and charming. One doesn’t walk in CTC-Land; running is de rigeur. Ditto big takes, exuberant dancing, breathless reactions and a marked tendency to break into song. Busytown will grab you by the back of your neck and shout, “Have a good time! Or else!” Okay, okay, you don’t have to tell me twice.

“What do people do all day?” Huckle the narrating cat inquires. Well, sit back and be informed.

The ineffably wonderful Gerald Drake plays a cop, a pirate (a pirate? Don’t ask) and any number of other characters. How Drake manages to do these goofy cartoons with so much taste and restraint is one of the great mysteries of Minnesota theater. Reed Sigmund plays Huckle, our guide. Sigmund is blustery and compelling, with Fatty Arbuckle gymnastics and cake-baking charisma. He’s simultaneously dorky and cagey. Dean Holt plays Lowly the Worm with under-stated grace (I’m not kidding, he’s wonderful). The scene in which Nurse Nellie waxes lovestruck over his body still makes me giggle.

And the ever-spellbinding Autumn Ness plays Betsy Bear, completely focused on her birthday bash for Grandma. Her performance features the funniest line of dialogue I’ve experienced in many moons: “This will be the greatest party since the dragons gave me my powers.” Did bookist Kling create this? I believe so. Or is it from the Scarry original? Or did Ness improvise it? Whatever its provenance, the line had me laughing for a solid five minutes.

These CTC stalwarts are joined by Meghan Kreidler – who delights as the Angry Postperson and also as lovelorn Nurse Nellie – and by Kasono Mwanza, who plays the best lion you will ever see. And an excellent train engine. And a terrific pickle.

Director Sean Graney paces Busytown beautifully: he lets the CTC regulars do their thing but doesn’t allow the show to get garbled or overly frenetic. He has also assembled, as is always the case at CTC, a crack team of designers.

Busytown, the Musical is also a musical and composer Michael Koerner has created some tasty songs, performed with toe-tapping gusto by this cast with many marvelous facets. They are accompanied by the ever-terrific Victor Zupanc, bent over his piano, wearing Bullwinkle ears.

Busytown, the Musical adds up to not very much and if you demand that theater has power and definable meaning, well, you might want to give this one a pass. But if you want fun and thrills, boffo performances, tuneful music (and if you have some bona fide children to take with you) then Busytown is your person. The kids will be delighted and you’ll have a good time as well.

For more info about John Olive, please visit his website.

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