Highland Park Players Theater for Young Audiences
By Joe Stead February 7, 2016
Allow me to borrow a familiar phrase: The wonderful thing about theatre is theatre’s a wonderful thing! I have known that ever since the age of seven when my mother began taking me to live theatre. I am living proof that theatre can be beneficial in many areas of childhood and even adult development as it engages the mind, the heart, the senses and the imagination. If we can dream it we can be it. With that thought in mind I decided to share my love of theatre with two special friends who I knew would be uniquely qualified to help me seek out “Winnie the Pooh” and his beloved animal friends.
My friend Kayla is a special young lady who is already a prize-winning animal trainer at the ripe old age of eleven. She plays the oboe in school band, is a wildly imaginative artist and has plans to become a veterinarian when she grows up. With her abundant knowledge and love of animals I have no doubt she will be a great success. She shares her love of animals with her mom Renee, who I have christened “Wonder Warden” for her tireless life-long devotion to the care of feathered, fury and scaly friends of all shapes and sizes. Renee is an amazing and compassionate educator, parent, friend all rolled into one.
We set off together on our adventure to meet “Winnie the Pooh” one blustery February morning. Our destination was the Hundred Acre Woods, which is located through February 14th at Edgewood Middle School, where the Highland Park Players are offering their Theater for Young Audiences production. Renee set the GPS in her van to 929 Edgewood, and we soon discovered that GPS likes to send us in circles and through as many turns and toll roads as possible. Anyone have an old-fashioned map handy? I appointed Kayla as my V.I.P. Assistant Reviewer for the day and handed her a notebook and pen to keep track of our adventures. I was delighted to see her sketching characters from the play before, during and after the performance, which was something I had done myself in a far-away place I call childhood.
Kayla’s first note was “Step 1: Get Lost”. We managed to find Edgewood Middle School with no problem however there were no visible signs or directions for where the play was being performed. This is an important lesson for a theatre company to learn: Help your audience to find you. We wound our way through a maze of hallways and followed a huge crowd of people that were attending a chess match…not in the Hundred Acre Woods. Kayla’s second note: “Where are we going?” We eventually reached our destination on the second floor, picked up our tickets and took the seats that Kayla selected in the auditorium.
I am happy to report that both Kayla and Renee agreed the performance we witnessed that Saturday morning was well worth our temporary confusion. Renee proclaimed that it was adorable and very close in entertainment value to the performances she has attended at the all-Equity Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, albeit of a slightly different caliber. She was surprised to learn that all of the actors were local volunteers who work with the 29-year-old Highland Park Players purely for the love of theatre and performing for a live audience. The entire cast came out at the end of the performance and sat at the front of the stage to meet the audience and sign autographs. Kayla was just a little shy but her mom and I accompanied her to the stage and found everyone to be just as friendly as they are talented.
Kayla, Renee and I all agreed that our favorite character and performer was Jamie Davidson (aka Tigger). In real life Jamie also happens to be the Executive Producer and Treasurer of HPP and an attorney, but on stage he was totally Tigger. His energy, friskiness, confidence and humor all completed a delightful and thoroughly entertaining characterization. ”Woo hoo hoo hoo!” Heidi Hansfield (Piglet) and Gemma Gardner (Roo) also got high marks, and Pamela Anderson (Kanga) provided a thrilling and unexpected R&B vocal twist for the rousing “Honey Pot” number.
Renee singled out Derrick Procell, a professional voice actor, musician and composer whose mellow baritone was serenely suited to his role as Narrator. Renee claims she would buy his CD’s, and you too can check out his work at www.DerrickAnAmerican.com. The four young ladies who are credited as “Hundred Acre Wood Creatures” demonstrated polish and charm as tap dancing honey bees. The youngest performer Caroline Baldan is 13 years-old, only two years older than my special guest reviewer and a very good peer and role model.
Most of all, this was “Winnie the Pooh,” and Bob Spidale was a most genial and endearing bear hero. Kayla laughed when Pooh frightened himself with a growl, although it was clear this sweet fella wouldn’t harm a single bee even as he floated in disguise as a rain cloud in his quest for honey. We all felt that the role of Christopher Robin would have been better played by a real child, or at least an actor who had a more believable child-like persona.
Overall our visit to Highland Park Players’ Hundred Acre Woods was delightful and memorable. As a long-time theatre fan, it gave me pleasure watching the performance through the eyes of my two special guests. Seeing the smiles on both faces was worth far more than the price of a ticket. The play’s upbeat lessons on friendship and sharing were quite appropriate to our little adventure. Probably the best part of the experience was seeing Kayla holding her mom’s hand as they walked out of the theatre. “She never does that,” Renee exclaimed joyfully. It reminds us that childhood doesn’t last forever so parents, family and loved ones: make the most of it!
Highland Park Players presents “Winnie the Pooh” February 6, 7, 13 & 14 at 10:30 am and 12:30 pm. The performance runs under an hour and is highly recommended to audiences of all ages. The auditorium is located on the second floor of Edgewood Middle School at 929 Edgewood in Highland Park. HPP’s fall musical will be “Billy Elliot” in October 2016 at Northbrook Theatre. For more information, visit www.highlandparkplayers.com.