When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a ten-minute play based on Esphyr Siobodkina’s beloved picture book Caps for Sale. It was selected as one of a handful in our class to be performed and toured around to local elementary schools. My classmates and I had a blast jumping around as monkeys and figuring out how to wear 17 caps at a time. Our performances delighted kindergartners all over the county.
Fast forward ten or so years, and that school project has grown up, graduated from college, and gotten a full-time job at Adventure Theatre MTC. Caps for Sale The Musical, a thoroughly enjoyable new musical adapted by Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer and Michael J Bobbitt, embarks on a national tour that includes Off-Broadway’s New Victory Theatre in New York.
Playwright Sayer is longtime friend of the late Siobodkina, and it’s clear that the entire production team worked very hard to remain true to the spirit of her work. Entering the theatre in Glen Echo Park is like stepping into the pages of the original book thanks to the bold and colorful set by Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden. The small stage acts almost as a jungle gym to the ensemble of six, who play over 15 roles, sing, dance, and steer a number of adorable puppets (made by Andrea “Dre” Moore).
In case you’ve been avoiding libraries for 75 years and are unfamiliar with the story, it revolves around a peddler who carries his wares in a high stack on his head: blue caps, red caps, grey caps and brown caps. On day, he decides to nap beneath a tree and wakes up to find his caps have been stolen by a band of mischievous monkeys.
The original story is so popular because of its simplicity, but the new details that are added to beef up the stage version are cute and logical. Sayer and Bobbitt have even added a new character based on the author and her cat. Strong performances abound, with some standouts. Alan Naylor strongly leads the cast as the frustrated Peddler with wonderful comedic timing. He often shares scenes with his best friend Essie, played mirthfully by Rebecca Tucker, whose physicalities are perfectly eccentric. The two are joined by a band of gossipy villagers/monkeys/futuristic dreamland citizens, played by Danny Pushkin, Sean Elias, Bibi Mama, and Chelsea Baldree), who each get their moment to shine.
Director Patrick Pearson does well in setting a highly energetic and kooky pace, without letting it turn over-the-top. The new score is by William Yanesh, and I applaud his impulse not to dumb it down for children. I do wish, however, that there were more hummable tunes for the kids to sing on the car ride home (every composer’s least favorite critique, I know).
Even watching in an opening weekend audience mainly comprised of adults, there were many laugh-out-loud moments. Audiences of all ages will enjoy Kelsey Hunt’s imaginative costumes, and Bobbit’s snappy choreography.
The entire family will enjoy this fun twist on a classic story, now celebrating its 75th anniversary. Adventure Theatre MTC has been serving up fabulous shows for kids for over 60 years, and Caps for Sale The Musical is no exception!
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Caps for Sale The Musical plays through Sunday, September 27, 2015 at Adventure Theatre MTC, in Glen Echo Park – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.