“Sideways Stories from Wayside School” – Childsplay

This review aired on KBAQ October 5, 2015


Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ

Childsplay always approaches theater for young audiences with a creative glimmer, a dash of charm, an infectious production, and adult performers who often essay young kids with charming sensitivity.  Such is the case with “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” that opens the troupe’s 39th season with bizarre charisma that will delight young audiences while entertaining their adult chaperones.

The play is based on Louis Sachar’s beloved children’s books.  The off-center production brings a wacky elementary school to life.  Located thirty stories up in a skyscraper, this strange classroom makes bizarre things come to vivid life.  Initially it’s a classroom of bright and inquisitive students facing dorky teacher, Mrs. Gorf.  The kids neither respect nor wish to emulate their teacher.  When Mrs. Gorf disappears, the classroom transitions to Mrs. Jewls (Jewels), a teacher who relates well to her students.  The kids learn from her because they respect and enjoy her vivid life tutorials.

Discussing further plot details from the dynamic production would spoil the magic that sparks Mrs. Jewls classroom to a rich education.  The story breezes by and the chatter at both the intermission and after the show revealed little theatergoers who related to the things the play teaches them.

The Dwayne Hartford directed production bustles with energy and enthusiasm as the play removes the theater’s imaginary fourth wall and makes audiences part of the environment.  Off- kilter sets forgo reality, colorful costumes create an eye-filling environment, vivid lighting points out important things, and the fanciful wigs tell audiences something about each character.

An eight-person acting ensemble of many Childsplay regulars creates distinctive characters that subtly differentiate each person so it is easy to tell each person’s traits.  Debra K. Stevens is a lovable delight as Mrs. Jewls, Jon Gentry has a field day playing adult men and women, while Katie McFadzen plays an adult and child with carefree abandon.  Tommy Strawser makes Myron alive and real, Yolanda London is an on-the-edge as Rondi, Michael Thompson makes a fun Dameon, Angelica Howland is the bookish Bebe, while Eric Boudreau towers over his fellow students.  The play suggests that kids learn in such a creative environment.

“Sideways Stories from Wayside School” is another exhilarating Childsplay production that entertains children mightily as it teaches them fundamental things they should know about life while adult chaperons won’t be bored by the fanciful production.  “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” continues through October 18 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.  For tickets, call the Tempe Center for the Arts box office at 480-350-2822 or order tickets online at www.childsplayaz.org.

Grade: A