Adventure Theatre MTC presents the world premiere musical Blueberries for Sal, written by Michael J. Bobbitt and Sandra Eskin, and featuring new music and lyrics by William Yanesh. Based on the classic by Robert McCloskey, director Jess Jung leads the celebration of the 70th anniversary of this Caldecott Honor book.
Known for its vibrant and creative sets, Adventure Theatre amazes the eye with their rendition of Blueberry Hill. Scenic Designer Jessica Cancino uses a multi-leveled stage full of inclines and slopes, which gives the actors lots of freedom for creative movement. As usual, the set painting is spectacular, full of lush green hills dotted with blueberry bushes set against a beautiful forest backdrop. Lighting Designer Alberto Segarra does a fine job creating the atmosphere of a lovely Fall day, rounded out with nature effects (twittering birds, whistling winds, etc.) by Sound Designer Neil McFadden. Costume Designer Jeannette Christensen manipulates regular clothing to create various woodland animals, while keeping the outfits practical for quick changes. However, the best technical element by far (in my opinion) is the puppetry and props, designed by Andrea “Dre” Moore. From a massive moose that has to be manned by two people to intricate baby bird rod puppets, they bring a real “wow” factor to the production.
Blueberries follows an afternoon of blueberry picking with Sal (Sophie Schulman) and her Mother (Sarah Corey), who have ventured out to collect berries for a pie. On the other side of the hill, Little Bear (Alex De Bard) and her Mama (Karen Vincent) are stocking up for their hibernation. When a series of events leads to both pairs getting separated, a whirlwind adventure follows!
The mothers explain the changing seasons to their young on the way to Blueberry Hill, and the cast shows great harmonizing and strong vocals with their number “Why does Winter Happen?” While Sal is a sheer tornado of excitement and energy, Little Bear is an anxious bundle of nerves. When the pairs are separated and confusion sets in, each child runs into a different family of birds. Sarah Corey urges Sal to be thoughtful and “caw-caw-cautious” in her number as Mother Crow, while Karen Vincent sings about the values of bravery and confidence to Little Bear as Mother Partridge. A mother’s influence is a heavy theme in this show, and radiates the whole way through before coming to a head in an epic chase scene, choreographed by Sandra Atkinson. The actors all do great jobs with their characters, my favorite being Karen Vincent’s haughty, proud Partridge. My one gripe is that there were times when the music drowned out the vocals, but they were few and far between.
Adventure Theatre MTC’s Blueberries for Sal is creative, charming, and a real visual stunner. It’s a great way for families to settle into the Fall season together!