Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Funny, Funny Farm

 The cast of Born to Be a Cowboy.

By Tina Arth

In 5 years, and over 150 reviews including many youth productions, nothing quite prepared me for the Funny Farm Early Learning Center’s dinner theater production of Country Fair Jamboree. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds (including, most notably, a last-minute rescheduling from Friday night to Saturday afternoon for the one-time event) this remarkable group of staff, volunteers, and preschoolers proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that age is no barrier to immersion in the theater arts. Funny Farm doyennes Laura Rawlins and Marcy Wells (filling numerous roles as organizer, author, adapter, director, emcee, auctioneer, choreographer, and so much more) assembled a team so skilled and flexible that the 22-hour delay in opening the curtain caused no apparent snags, and Funny Farm parents, grandparents, and friends cheerfully reorganized their schedules to accommodate last Friday’s horrific windstorm and subsequent power outages.

Elouise Surmi and Axel Dubois
(as Cowboy Roy and Horse) 
If I counted right (several kids filled roles in different numbers) no fewer than 26 singing, dancing, acting preschoolers appeared on stage. They conclusively proved that they could master singing in unison (and in time with the music), blocking, dialogue, comic timing, and quick costume changes (for four musical numbers and three narrated dramas) like a bunch of tiny pros.  For most, it was their first time on stage – but it definitely will not be their last.  

Playing on the actors’ natural affinity for silliness made it possible for the cast to overcome potential stage fright and give it their enthusiastic all. Each number had its own unique charm, but while it is not easy to isolate specifics, I did have a few personal favorites. The Pie Song gave the kids their first chance to shine as individuals, and they made the most of it – they really rocked their pie faces! Born to Be a Cowboy incorporated Laura Rawlins’ skilled choreography – those of us challenged to chew gum and walk at the same time could only envy those singing, dancing little cowpokes. Axel Dubois, making his Funny Farm debut as “Cowboy Roy,” was articulate and earnest in his search for a steed. For me, the best moment in the show was when he finally located a horse (the captivating Elouise Surmi), disappeared backstage with horse and saddle, and emerged with the horse riding the cowboy – a nice plot twist, but more than that, an expression of the humane values so critical in early childhood education. 

Veteran Funny Farm performer Selina Applestill gave Axel stiff competition in the best acting category – her “Little Old Lady” was truly fearless, and kept her amazing array of followers on point. For sheer, unbridled fun nobody on stage could compete with Alex Thompson (also a veteran actor), whose “Duck” in Dooby Dooby Moo provided the perfect finale and kept the house (on and off stage) in stitches. I see a bright future for this young man as either an Elvis imitator or a flock leader – or maybe both.

On the adult side, Marcy Wells’ narration was brilliant – flexible, just slightly sardonic, and apparently (although not really) spontaneous, and her skill as an auctioneer deserves special mention. Marcy also gets credit (along with Margaret Farnsworth) for the fabulous costumes. Sets and scenery (Marcy and Margaret again, plus the multi-talented Chris Byrne) added immeasurably – I was particularly taken with the forest backdrop and the wonderful and flexible cornstalks.

One tiny note of criticism: I was surprised to see, in the (absolutely wonderful!) program, that folks were invited to get autographs from their “favorite actors and actresses.” In 2017, the gender distinction between male and female performers is becoming a linguistic anachronism, and I hope that Funny Farm considers moving to gender-neutral labels for future productions.

Funny Farm ELC’s production of Country Fair Jamboree played one performance only, on Saturday, April 8 in the Garden Home Recreation Center Auditorium. I strongly recommend that you buy your tickets early for next year’s show – this one was clearly a sell-out performance!

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