Get the Whole Family in on the Prank with Tilly the Trickster

by Regina Ford

Tilly is a grade school-aged youngster with an inkling for playing pranks on her family, friends, at school, and on just about anyone. This kid doesn’t discriminate. At the start of the show, Tilly announces, “I love, love, love to play tricks.” What follows is 75 minutes of electrically charged energy full of song and dance and Tilly’s relentless, not-really-dangerous practical jokes. 

Janet Roby as Tilly's Mom, Christopher Moseley as Tilly's Dad, Austin Killian as Peppermint, and Samantha Cormier as Tilly. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Janet Roby as Tilly’s Mom, Christopher Moseley as Tilly’s Dad, Austin Killian as Peppermint, Teddy (puppet), and Samantha Cormier as Tilly. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Tilly the Trickster, a family friendly show, written by Jeremy Dobrish with music and lyrics by Drew Fornarola and based on the children’s book written by actress and comedian of SNL fame, Molly Shannon, is running now at Live Theatre Workshop, just in time for the holiday season. This energetic show is definitely not your traditional  holiday presentation. There’s no Santa, no stockings, and no tree, but there is a message that goes beyond the tinsel and gingerbread: Tricks are not always fun for everyone, no matter how harmless they seem.

No one escapes Tilly’s tricks and mayhem starts first thing each morning. Her breakfast antics send her baby brother’s cereal flying throughout the room, much to the annoyance of her parents. Their frustration is highlighted with the song, “Where Did We Go Wrong?” The only one delighted to see breakfast on the floor is Peppermint, the family dog.

Tilly’s antics result in her schoolmates missing the bus. A gift of hot candy to her teacher gets her sent to the principal, with no results. Punishing Tilly is no use. She pretends she’s sorry but lets the audience know with a smile and wink that her game is not over.

Tilly is taxing, but not cruel. She believes everyone she pranks thinks it’s funny, too. I want to thank Shannon for writing her starring character as a girl. My recollection of mean girls in grade school is pretty vivid. For the shy or overweight kids or anyone who was “different,” the girl’s gym class was a venue for ridicule and pranks causing cruel humiliation.

I doubt very much if the toddlers in the audience understood the moral of the show, but watching their faces, I could see that the singing and dancing and especially the tricks kept them entranced for most of the performance. 

Shannon and Dobrish included some dark humor in their dialogue that missed the mark for me. When the principal is trying to teach Tilly a lesson he recounts his own troubled childhood and describes tormenting animals. Hmm? That scene disturbed me. Even though the principal is remorseful for his behavior, taunting animals sends a message that may be misunderstood by young children.

The actors worked well as a unified ensemble and created a variety of characters with ease.

Samantha Cormier (Tilly) never let her energy down, and her ability to play a grade school student is pretty amazing. I would have avoided her Tilly like the plague if I went to her school. Cormier was very good but I really would like to see how a preteen actor would have handled the role.

Janet Roby played three roles: Tilly’s mom, Tilly’s teacher Mrs. Mooney, and a cat (puppet). Roby and Christopher Moseley, who portrayed Tilly’s dad, as well as the bus driver and the school principal, worked so well together as Tilly’s freaked out parents. Both actors were nerdy enough to appease the younger audience members yet sympathetic enough for parents to identify with as they coped with a rambunctious child. They also had great catchy musical numbers with clever lyrics like those in ‘Mornings Stink.”  Words like fart, litter box and pee-ew fit right into dialogue and lyrics.

Tilly’s younger brother is played by a puppet brought to life by Kyleigh Sacco, who also acted the part of a bird (puppet) plus Tilly’s school friend Emily. Sacco nailed the role of Teddy, the baby brother. This character was portrayed using a puppet and, dressed in black clothes, she maneuvered Teddy around the stage wonderfully. She disappeared as Teddy came to life.

Samantha Cormier as Tilly and Austin Killian as Peppermint. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Samantha Cormier as Tilly and Austin Killian as Peppermint. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Peppermint the dog is one of my favorite characters in the show. Austin Killian makes this comical canine the pet you want to adopt and call your best friend. Peppermint shares enlightening speeches that it is made clear only the audience can understand. He becomes the voice of reason for the play. Just when he thinks he’s understood by the other characters, they let him know that all they hear is “Arf! Arf! Arf!”

The choreography by Amanda Gremel was simple but also a creative balance with the music direction by Taylor Thomas. The set, designed by Richard Gremel, was so simple yet very effective. Childlike hand painted drawings depicting some of the trickster’s props in the show surrounded the stage on three sides while the title of the musical, “Tilly the Trickster,” took center stage serving as the show’s background throughout the performance. All the cast moved props off and on the stage and their work as a tight ensemble made the show just flow.

Tilly the Trickster is appropriate for the entire family, although I think very young children may not understand the plot. That’s where the music and the strong zany characters will capture their imaginations. It is playing at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm and Sundays at 3pm through December 28th. Tickets can be purchased online at livetheatreworkshop.org or by calling the box office at 327-4242.

The Little Prince is Pure Magic

by Chloe Loos

The Little Prince is my favorite book. When I was a little girl, my mother introduced me to the world of the enigmatic prince and all the characters he meets throughout his travels of the universe. I didn’t, as most children don’t, quite grasp the eternal life lessons this book has granted me. As I’ve grown, I find myself drawn to quotes from the book that give me clarity. Many of us likely have a similar bond with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel. Entering the star-strung set, all of my nostalgia came to light.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Scoundrel & Scamp’s adaptation of the novel, translated by Claire Marie Mannle, and adapted and directed by Holly Griffith, delivers everything I so love about this book. I can’t remember the last time that I was so enthralled with a piece of theatre. It’s magical, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s poignantly sad, and every line is filled with deep truths and wisdom. It is in this space that we hear big truths from the little voices of both the prince both on stage and the one within us.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The ensemble cast, led by Kathleen Cannon as The Aviator, glided through this piece of work with grace. Attention was directed and kept so well; I would be so caught up in a performance that I wouldn’t notice the utter magic happening on stage until they reminded me to look for it. While every single performer had moments where they either made me laugh or sometimes brought me to tears – sometimes at the same time – special shout out to Gabriella de Brequet’s performance of the Rose, Cole Potwardowski as The Lamplighter, Ryuto Adamson as The Fox, and each one of Gretchen Wirges’ many characters. The ensemble was so strong and so striking in the physical, vocal, and character work that I sometimes forgot this wasn’t a cast of 30.

The performers navigated the tonal shifts and transitions with beauty and were strongly supported by music director Feliz Torralba. Torralba’s playing underscored multiple moments to the point that she and the music felt like another member of the ensemble. Her strong use of musical motifs helped us journey through the plot and tethered us to characters and emotions felt by the characters on stage and the audience.

In addition, the stagecraft was truly out of this world. The set featured a revolving platform and twinkles of starlight, supported by the incredible lighting (Raulie Martinez) which took us from day to night through sunrises, sunsets, dusk, and twilight. The props were childlike and simple but imbued with a sense of playful awe. No wonder we adults still go to the theatre. Kids go, too. I stayed for the talk back and a little boy, no more than 8, asked a question about what The Prince did after the end of the story, to which Griffith noted was the same sort of question the aviator would ask. This shows that the work we choose to do, as theatre makers, matters. By allowing a space to wonder, to hope, to welcome, the art done impacts hearts and minds of all ages.

Finally, I can’t remember seeing a production this diverse in a long time. Out of nine on-stage bodies, there were six women, half of whom were women of color, and three men, none of whom were white. The creative team was primarily made up of women as well. The variety of performers in this production reminds us that there is so much space for love, acceptance, and voices, if we only let them on stage. Through The Little Prince, those of us in the audience, especially those tired or excluded by lack of representation are reminded, simply, that this story is for all of us.

The Little Prince runs through Sunday, November 3rd at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.