Freckleface Strawberry the Musical, now at New World Stages, proves to be a delightful adaptation of Julianne Moore’s children’s book, one that will appeal to young kids, adolescents, and even their adult companions.
While maintaining the illusion of adults acting as kids can be a difficult task, the use of smart set pieces (by Beowulf Borrit), vibrant costumes (by Fabio Toblini and Holly Cain) and, above all, the instinctual acting by a cast of talented adults, all work together to make director Buddy Crutchfield’s savvy production come to life.
Hayley Podschun, whose big doe eyes and huge expressions perfectly suits the title character, leads the excellent ensemble, all of whom are decked out in kids clothing and speak in high tones to mimic the voices one would hear on the playground. Through their world, audiences are taught to love the skin they’re in and to be proud of their differences.
The musical cleverly builds on an already sweet story, as the giant book set opens its covers, turning pages as the scenes change. The cast of “seven year olds” use an enormous swing in their playground and sit on tiny chairs in their classroom. Young Jake (Andrew Cristi) wears glasses too big for his face, while the other boys wear baseball caps backwards.
Gary Kupper’s songs, such as “I Can Be Anything” and “Be Yourself,” may be a bit blatant in their messages, but their sincerity and humor make them more fun than obvious. Moreover, every song has its own style, from “Creative Minds,” an a cappella rap performed to the other actors’ beatboxing, to such inventive tunes as “Basketball” and the soulful “When You Got Friends.” The show also features hints of pop culture throughout, even nodding at elements of such musicals as Chicago, Damn Yankees, and High School Musical, not to mention Lady Gaga.
The show falters only very slightly at the end. Strawberry was the black sheep in her family, the only one to be cursed with those frightful freckles. She grows up and starts her own freckleless family — an interesting nod to her own childhood. This connection is lost in the commotion of the final number, which is only accompanied by a quick nod to the irony of her situation. Nonetheless, audiences will the leave the show with a smile on their freckle-filled or freckle-less faces!