What do people do all day?
The answers to that simple question are strung like holiday lights throughout "Busytown the Musical," the stage adaptation of Richard Scarry's children's books by composer Michael Koerner and book writer Kevin Kling.
In the vibrantly designed and -acted show, which opened over the weekend at Children's Theatre in Minneapolis, creatures with people-like personalities put out fires, farm and make bread. They also throw parties for Grandma.
The production, staged with effervescence by Chicago director Sean Graney, has oodles of charm, even if all its whiz-bang-ery seems almost too much for this collection of simple stories.
Betsy Bear (Autumn Ness) decides to throw a party for her grandmother (Dean Holt). After writing the invitation, she misses the airplane that will deliver the envelope. Lucky for Betsy, pirate Captain Salty (Gerald Drake) just happens to come along, and he and his arrgh-ful bunch are going in the direction of Grandma.
There also are bits about Sergeant Murphy (Drake again) going after a banana-stealing monkey, a construction worker who builds a house and a farmer whose product ends up as cake.
"Busytown" is akin to educational shows like "Sesame Street." It is actually more sophisticated than advertised, even if a bit disjointed.
The most compelling aspects of "Busytown" are its design (Eric Van Wyk did the eye-popping set and puppets, while Loren Shaw did the animal-accented costumes), its music and performances. Though somewhat predictable — all have end-stopped rhymes — the songs are clever and heartfelt.
And the acting company, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Victor Zupanc, is a protean one that is showing different aspects of its talent with this show. Ness is a clarion, sweet-voiced Betsy Bear. Holt is a master of comedy who alternates between Grandma and Lowly Worm with deftness and charm.
Reed Sigmund, who plays Lowly Cat — a neighbor and friend of Betsy's — also invests his character with gusto and sweetness. Children's Theatre newcomer Kasono Mwanza plays both the farmer and Doctor Lion with spirit, even if he's not in total harmony with the others.
Meghan Kreidler, who plays a peeved postal worker, also is notable.
These newcomers help the theater with a challenge for any company that has a permanent ensemble of players: how to keep it fresh and new, especially for an audience that has seen you perform for a decade or more.
They answer that last question with lots of energy.