Jada Johnson, Samantha York, Garett Harris, Brad Smith, Madison Miller, Tayler Jones in "Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera" at the Hilberry Theatre. Photo: WSU Theatres

Cookin' Up Fun For All Ages At The Hilberry

By John Quinn

"The thing is, see, I'm older than I ever intended to be." Roxy Hart, "Chicago."

I second that emotion. It was a little uncomfortable to trek down to the Hilberry Theatre Thursday morning to catch "Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera," the Maggie Allesee Department of Music and Dance's offering in its second season of Summer Children's Theatre. The contrast between all those wide-eyed moppets and my jaded, wrinkled brow was painful.

"Little cheeks/Little teeth/Everything around me is little!" Miss Hannigan, "Annie."

Well, not everything. Along with the day care kids were a number of families and even adults unaccompanied by children; perhaps they, like me, were interested in a program intended for immature audiences. None of us was disappointed.

"Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera" is derived from a folk tale, but apparently not too old a tale. It was first published in 1720, and may well be professionally crafted rather than derived from oral tradition.

As told in "Stone Soup," a Tramp (Brad Smith) arrives in a village marketplace to find the vendors bickering about the quality of their merchandise. Seizing on an opportunity for a free meal, the tramp proclaims their wares can't compete with the fabulous magic stone in his knapsack, which produces a delicious soup. The skeptical villagers watch his preparations, and the crafty cook slyly suggests how much better the wonderful soup would be if each of them made a contribution to the pot. The soup, of course, really is wonderful, and the tramp has taught a valuable lesson on cooperation.

The production is done in modern dress and to a distinctive hip-hop beat, both rhythmic and repetitive. The rap is accompanied with heavy percussion: bucket, gong, tabor - even drumsticks on set designer Tonae Mitshashi's colorful market stalls. The young audience, raised on SpongeBob SquarePants, will miss the reference to Popeye the Sailor and spinach, but they readily bobbed to the rhythm of the beat.

"Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera" is under the direction of Department Chair John Wolf, but no author is attributed. If this show is the product of collaboration among the artists, it is a demonstration of its own moral - it's really a fine achievement.

Seated behind the peanut gallery (and how many of you geezers can identify THAT reference?) in the half-lit house, I can attest it held its audience "rapt." That's no easy goal. Yet it also entertained those of us ready for Social Security and everybody in between.

Brad Smith is joined by Jada Johnson, Samantha York, Garett Harris, Tayler Jones and Madison Miller to form a nice, tight ensemble. The performances are big, broad and loud - they reach out of the Hilberry's huge stage and tickle the funny bone.

Reviewing "Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera" meant getting The Critic out of the house before 10 am; a rare event, but worth it. The production is introducing a new generation of potential patrons to the wonders of live theater. "The theater is dead?" Not by a long shot!


'Stone Soup: A Wrap Opera'

Wayne State Summer Children's Theatre at Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. 10:30 a.m. June 20, 26 & 27, and 2 p.m. June 21, 28 & 29. 45 minutes; no intermission. $5 child, $8 adult. 313-577-2972. http://www.wsushows.com

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