‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ as colorful and fun as ever
BY CATEY SULLIVAN October 19, 2012 3:14PM
Nate Lewellyn stars in “Harold and the Purple Crayon” at Chicago Children’s Theatre. | Photo by MichaelL Brosilow
‘Harold and the purple crayon’
CHICAGO CHILDREN’S THEATRE
♦ Through Nov. 4 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn
♦ Nov. 7-11 at the Beverly Arts Center, 2401 W. 111th St.
♦ Nov. 14-18 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie
♦ Tickets (vary by venue), $16.50-$42.50
♦ Visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org
Roughly midway through the Chicago Children’s Theatre production of “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” the titular young artist/adventurer finds himself on the Planet of the Crayon Eaters, his all-important writing instrument in danger of being snarfed down by a duo of bulbous-headed lavender aliens. Those familiar with Crockett Johnson’s classic children’s picture books know there’s no cause for alarm — Harold’s guileless creativity saves the day, turning the goofy predators into partiers as the stage becomes the site of an infectiously bouncy dance party.
As the monsters bop along, director Sean Graney’s gift for transposing a simple yet sublime children’s story from page to stage becomes apparent. Over the course of a 60-minute romp, the adventures of 4-year-old Harold move from the depths of the sea to the outer limits of outer space with charm and energy to spare. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” is very much a show for the youngest of theatergoers, but unlike much tot-targeted entertainment, it never talks down to its demographic. It captures the childlike sense of wonder that defines Crockett’s books without condescension.
And although “Harold and the Purple Crayon” may be a page-turner appropriate for pre-readers, it also taps into a theme that grownups would do well to revisit every so often. The book is all about the endless escapades available to those who unleash their imaginations. The first-rate design team for “Harold and the Purple Crayon” takes that idea and runs with it. Harold’s on-stage world (like that of the book) begins as white and empty as a brand-new drawing pad, a three-dimensional blank canvas rendered by set designer Geoff Curley. It doesn’t stay blank for long. Thanks to the animated projections of Liviu Pasare and the delightfully quirky puppets of Joanna Iwanicka, Harold’s world quickly becomes a lively wonderland. With the exception of those marvelous projections, the stage-craft is decidedly low-tech, which is totally in keeping with the book’s sensibility. Puffer fish are umbrellas in disguise, a full moon doubles as a pie plate flying saucer, a displaced sheet turns Harold’s bed into a sailing ship.
The storytelling is almost entirely sung, with Harold (fully grown actor Nate Lewellyn) and two “story teller” helpers (Bethany Thomas and Alex Goodrich) moving from earth to sea to sky under the power of Tommy Rapley’s winsomely rambunctious choreography and Nick Davio’s music direction. The music, by Auston James, is delightful (and played live on stage by a three-piece band that includes the composer as well as Eric Engelson on drums and percussion and Charlie Malave on bass and cello), meshing the basic rhythms of nursery rhymes with a sort of indie/folk/pop sound that is both intriguing and easy on the ears.
As for the grown-ups playing Harold and his friends, they manage to capture the free-wheeling spirit of childhood without being cloying or cutesy. They also sound terrific. In all, Chicago Children’s Theatre has drawn a winner with Harold.
Catey Sullivan is a local free-lance writer.