It’s a tough sell: calling the kids indoors for a theater show in summertime, when they could be zooming down a waterslide or whee-ing away the day at Valleyfair.
The two are playful partners in the Kling-penned 70-minute one-act that premiered Friday at Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. Kling tells the stories and Zupanc lends support with songs and sound effects. And Kling’s interview with a mosquito reminds us why, in fact, it’s nice to be inside.
It’s a breezy bit of fun.
“Best Summer,” which can be enjoyed by grade-schoolers as well as grandparents, is Kling’s latest show for young people at CTC. He also did “Lyle the Crocodile,” “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” and “Mississippi Panorama.” It starts with Kling pointing out the obvious for audience members who may not know this Minnesota original.
“Notice anything different about me?” he asks. “That’s right — one arm is longer than the other; and my right arm hasn’t moved in 18 years, so if you see it moving, tell me.”
Noting that “we all have something that’s different about us,” Kling, who was born with a deformed left arm and lost the use of his other arm in a near-fatal motorcycle accident, tells his young audience that features like these make each of us special.
Kling’s gift, though, is his folksy brilliance. He plays Maurice, a highly imaginative and curious 9-year-old boy. Maurice’s out-of-school activities include Norwegian camp (which he hates until he grows to love it), adventures with his brother and a sister who has recently gotten her driver’s license, and getting into a bit of trouble here and there.
A gifted storyteller who knows how to work an audience, Kling is also a keen observer, and “Best Summer Ever” evinces that acuity with details of things that make summer fun, including icy treats, cookouts and stories from Grandpa (a stolid farmer who helps Maurice name some new constellations).
Zupanc, CTC’s resident composer, is a big part of the show. Playing accordion and percussion, he sings and shimmies, as when he’s doing an interactive Norwegian singalong about a chicken. Most of all, he brings huge energy and charisma — sometimes as counterpoint to Kling’s earnestness, sometimes in support.
Director Peter Brosius stages “Summer” in a way that suggests an accordion playing — contracting for quiet moments and expanding for big ones. He also broadens the show through the use of Liz Howls’ projected animations, which help turn an intimate storytelling experience into a bigger theatrical vehicle.
As the kids were leaving Friday, many were smiling. They’d gone into a dark theater and come out with an experience as cool as an Icee treat.
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