Not afraid of the dark

The Coterie Theatre delivers an adorable and safely fun romp with "Goosebumps “The Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical."

Renowned for presenting delightful, educational, and thoughtful children’s theatre, The Coterie Theatre has really hit it out of the park with Goosebumps “The Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical.  Goosebumps is an extremely popular series of scary children’s novels by R.L. Stine, so it’s interesting to see how the creepy, funny stories translate on the stage.  Most importantly, this is an all-ages show, and The Coterie is very careful to make it palatable for even very young audience members.

With over 300 novels to his name, R. L. Stine is a tirelessly prolific author.  He is constantly trying new ideas and concepts: he’s written movies, comics, numerous series, and a children’s picture book.  His Goosebumps series doesn’t hold back when it comes to scariness – which is invigorating to kids craving thrill and excitement –  but are considered safe places to explore spooky concepts.  Goosebumps “The Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical was adapted and written by playwright John Maclay, with music and lyrics by Danny Abosch and has all of the campy fun of the original series with no fear of traumatizing audience members of any age.  The play manages to be funny and interesting, and never talks down to children while they are immersed in the world of the story. Prior to the show beginning, cast members introduce concepts the play will explore as well as spooky theatrical technical devices so the audience is prepared for them once the show begins.

In Goosebumps “The Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical, Brooke (Callie Rodina) and Zeke (Jacob Valle) are excited to audition for their school play.  Their theatre teacher Ms. Walker (Sarah LaBarr) announces that the musical for this year is about a phantom like the one that is said to haunt their very school.  After the usual ups and downs of casting, the production is fraught with mysterious goings-on and the students are forced into a mystery that they must get to the bottom of or the show may be cancelled!  High-energy dancing, well-timed jokes, and catchy songs combine to make this a fun, well-crafted, and suspenseful tale.

The cast works exceptionally well together as a team, all of them are on the same wavelength, energy-wise.  Callie Rodina and Jacob Valle are a dynamic team as Brooke and Zeke, engaging endlessly and are enjoyable to watch.  Silly and peppy without being irritating, Valle is a great support to the story. Rodina is especially efficacious and her vocal tone is beautiful no matter where she is in her range.  David LeVota is unrecognizable as Brian after first being introduced as another character, and is the picture of a handsome leading man. His interactions with Rodina are sparkly and sweet, and you really care about him on stage.

Choreographer Jerry Jay Cranford has created lively and energetic dance numbers that make everyone on stage look like a star.  Evan J. Lovelace stands with his marvelous, campy physicality and is intriguing and spooky. Sarah LaBarr is a nice choice for Mrs. Walker, she is physically imposing and her more classical singing style helps establish her as an adult.  Lily Nicholas, playing the bitter and resentful Tina, is funny and dark without being distracting or too mean. Everyone really complements each other well and is absolutely delightful to watch.

Georgianna Londré Buchanan has outdone herself with costumes–her designs are always inventive and beautiful, but here she is dressing ‘normal people’ marvelously.  They’re colorful and realistic, and flatter unique personalities and body types. Scott Hobart’s set design is intriguing and useful, he does a lot with such a small space and the set transitions are inventive.  The music levels were a little off at the beginning of opening night, but settled into a comfortable place quickly and are almost certainly not going to be a prevailing issue. The show is lit beautifully, with Jarrett Bertoncin’s design giving the perfect amount of spookiness without detracting from the action.

The Coterie Theatre always delivers an extremely polished package, but Goosebumps “The Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical has the added joy of a lot of heart and camaraderie.   Director Jeff Church’s casting of such a dynamic group and clearly fostering a safe atmosphere for them to play, along with The Coterie’s typically flawless Production Team makes for an hour of zippy, vivacious, loving fun.

REVIEW:
The Coterie Theatre
Goosebumps “Phantom of the Auditorium:” the Musical
Runs through August 5, 2018 (reviewed Friday, June 22)
The Coterie, Level one of Crown Center
2450 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Mo.
For more information, visit www.thecoterie.org

Cover photo: Callie Rodina (as Brooke) in R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps – Phantom of the Auditorium: The Musical.”