June 30--Since it reopened last year, Bucks County Playhouse has pulled in adult audiences wanting to see high-profile actors such as Andrea McArdle, Tyne Daly and James Earl Jones performing at the New Hope theater.
The playhouse now hopes to draw the family crowd with its first children's show since it opened again last July.
"Really Rosie" opens Friday, boasting a youthful cast of stage veterans, including three young actors from the Lehigh Valley.
The musical is based on a series of books by Maurice Sendak of "Where The Wild Things Are" fame and features music by Carole King, written shortly after her Grammy-winning "Tapestry" album.
The show was originally a half-hour 1975 animated television special. It was expanded into an Off-Broadway show designed by Sendak in 1980.
"We want to bring families to the playhouse," says Jillian Campbell, production manager. "With this show, people of all ages can come together and start a tradition."
Almost 150 children auditioned for the 12 roles.
The show is an hour long without an intermission. It's directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
The show is based on Sendak's books "The Sign on Rosie's Door" about the imaginative and theatrical Rosie, and the Nutshell Library -- which includes "Chicken Soup with Rice," "Alligators All Around," "One Was Johnny," and "Pierre," miniature books that teach children about the months, counting and the alphabet.
Although some topics are aimed at the very young, Campbell says older children and parents will enjoy the playful antics of the cast and the tuneful songs, which are performed with a four-piece live band.
"We are so excited to bring a show that is perfect for the entire family to the stage of the Bucks County Playhouse," says Producing Director Jed Bernstein. Part of the playhouse's mission, he says, is to "educate and introduce children to the magic of live theater." The Playhouse plans to present a children's show every summer, Campbell says.
August Fegley, an eighth-grade student at Arts Academy, grew up listening to King's songs from "Really Rosie." "We love that show," says her mother, Mercedes Tonne Fegley. "We've known the music for a long time."
August is joined on stage by her younger brother Oakes, a third-grader at Seven Generation Charter School. August, who recently played baby Louise in Civic Theatre's "Gypsy," is in the ensemble. Oakes, who has played Tiny Tim twice in Civic's annual "A Christmas Carol," plays the role of Chicken Soup.
As Chicken Soup, the younger brother of Rosie, Oakes is in three scenes and has a solo, although he wonders why "they count me as a principal even though my sister is in more scenes than me."
He's having fun with the role. For his song "Chicken Soup With Rice," he says "he gets to sing about the months and say 'chicken soup' about 800 times."
August, who is in most scenes, says she "works up a sweat" rehearsing.
"The songs are so great," she says. "I'm so happy to have this experience. It's very creative."
Her favorite number in the show: "Screaming and Yelling," an all-girl song that she describes as 1950s doo-wop in which the girls sing into hairbrushes and other things.
Reese Diaz, an eighth-grader at Orefield Middle School, played Michael Banks in Broadway's "Mary Poppins" last year. He plays contrarian Pierre in this show.
"He is really not interested in doing movies with Rosie," Reese says. "He keeps saying 'I don't care,' but then he changes and decides he does care."
His favorite number: "Alligators All Around," in which the actors construct the letters of the alphabet and ultimately a huge alligator out of assorted props.
The production stars Grace Capeless as Rosie. She appeared in Broadway's "A Christmas Story" last fall.
Fegley says the children were told of the history of the storied playhouse, which was built in a former grist mill and is a landmark in New Hope. When the original building was in danger of being torn down in the 1930s, songwriter Oscar Hammerstein and playwright Ross Hart, who lived in Bucks County, helped buy it to create a theater.
When it opened in 1939, the Bucks County Playhouse was known as "America's Most Famous Summer Theatre" and became a destination for a who's who of Broadway and Hollywood luminaries including Helen Hayes, Grace Kelly, Robert Redford, Walter Matthau and Merv Griffin. When it reopened last year, producing director Jed Bernstein pledged to restore it to its former glory.
"It's amazing," Fegley says. "Bernstein really brought it around, and they've been getting really big names."
The playhouse recently held the world premiere of "Mothers and Sons," a new play by four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally. Bernstein, who will finish this season at the Bucks County Playhouse, will begin a new job as president of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in January.
-- What: The first children's musical at the reopened Buck County Playhouse. It's based on books by Maurice Sendak, with music by Carole King.
-- When: Opens Friday and runs through July 21. 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Also 2 p.m. every Wednesday plus July 7, 14 and 19.
-- Where: The Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., New Hope
-- How much: $27.50
-- Info: http://www.bcptheater.org, 215-862-2121
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