By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy is putting a score of actors - some youths, some adults – on the boards at the HART Theatre for Belles On Their Toes. This sequel to the group’s 2013 production of Cheaper By The Dozen is set a few years later, and continues the well-loved story of the Gilbreth family. William Crawford returns as director of this lighthearted show, and many of the cast members are also reprising their 2013 roles.
Belles On Their Toes shows the Gilbreth children coping with both the loss of their father, efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth Sr., and their mother’s subsequent departure for a six week European tour to fulfill her late husband’s speaking engagements. The children now range from toddlers to college age, and it was fun for us to see how much some cast members have grown as actors in the last two years. In particular, Hannah Solheim (“Anne”), and Larry Jensen (“Frank”) bring an impressive maturity to their 2015 performances. Beth Self also returns (as Mrs. Gilbreth), now burdened with supporting her huge family. While her stage time is minimized by her prolonged absence, she captures the strength and heartbreak of a mother struggling to keep her family together. We cannot overlook (nor could we take our eyes off) local dog star Parker Pup, once again playing “The $5 Dog” with good cheer and a steady eye on his young handler, Colin Taylor (“Bob”).
The cast as a whole is excellent, although a couple of the adolescent boys have a tendency to overact and could use some extra guidance. Marlena Starrs (“Ernestine”) and Megan Willison (“Martha”) are especially believable as love-struck teens. Tim Oppenlander (as the cook/handyman “Tom”) is oddly placed in loco parentis during Mrs. Gilbreth’s absence; the character’s irreverence and quirky interjections are even funnier when delivered in Oppenlander’s convincing Irish brogue, and his irrepressible mirth after an unfortunate incident with a tennis racket keeps the audience in stitches. Following in her father’s footsteps, young Rachel Oppenlander turns in a great performance as “Lillian.”
In addition to directing the show, Crawford also acted as set designer, and (as always) the outcome is spectacular. High praise also to the costume committee – all of the clothing was period appropriate, and it cannot have been easy to concoct those remarkable bathing suits! Stage managers Riley Bartell and Hannah Vertner kept the production moving smoothly – no mean feat for a pair of pre-teens.
We continue to be impressed by the important role that STAGES is playing in introducing young people to the theater – as actors, crew members, and most important, as audience members. Cuts in arts education put the future of live theater at risk, but the Hillsboro community is doing a wonderful job of ensuring that local school children will have ample access to theater programs.
“Belles On Their Toes” is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, May 10th with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and 2:00 matinees on Saturday and Sunday.