Based on Julianne Moore’s book, a kids’ musical instructs about negative effects of bullying.
A new era has begun at Old Log Theater. But the new owners have carried on the theater’s tradition of summer children’s shows with “Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical.” The show is actually a Minnetonka Theatre production that Old Log is presenting.
A strong cast of high school actors form a cohesive company and dazzle in a less-than-perfect show.
The script, by Gary Kupper and Rose Caiola, is based on a bestselling children’s book by actress Julianne Moore, and takes a lighthearted look at the serious topic of teasing. Poor Strawberry, with her bright red hair and abundant freckles, is harassed constantly for being different.
In the current climate, where bullying has increasingly severe consequences, this is a superficial look at the issue, with bullies too easily transformed into friends. But it engaged the elementary-school audience for whom it was intended.
Kupper’s songs are the show’s strong suit, especially when they’re so well performed by the young cast. While many sound derivative and are ultimately forgettable, in the context of the show they bubble along most pleasantly.
Director Robbie Knutson gives the production a high degree of energy. There is an admirable amount of controlled chaos on stage, including the inevitable Old Log bit of the cast running through the audience.
Likewise, choreographer Anne Reason creates clever and entertaining dance moves, even if they are not always perfectly executed.
Musical director Brian Pekol, who also accompanies, prepared his cast well. There are a number of instances of close harmony singing that are unexpectedly beautiful.
Scottie Schwefel brings a quirky energy to Strawberry that is endearing. She grounds the silliness of the story.
The strongest voices are Dan Piering, as a regular kid, Emilee Hassanzadeh as a ballet dancer, Eric Sargent as the basketball star and Erika Wichmann as the ditz. As Strawberry’s mother, Katherine Fried makes the strongest emotional connection.
The set is bare bones and simple, but as creative as the rest of the production, like when a bed transforms instantly into a barre.
By virtue of their talent and energy, this cast captivated the young audience, and the moral, that you are different — just like everybody else — is not a bad one for them to carry away.
William Randall Beard writes about theater.