Richard Scarry's 1968 volume "What Do People Do All Day? " is one of those rare books so close to the preoccupations of young children that...
Richard Scarry’s 1968 volume “What Do People Do All Day?” is one of those rare books so close to the preoccupations of young children that many kids are thrilled by repeat visits to its sprightly pages. Scarry’s gift for stimulating and connecting with children’s curiosity about the workaday world honors their thirst for knowledge in a rewarding and entertaining way.
It’s no wonder little ones are literally squealing with delight at Seattle Children’s Theatre’s “Busytown,” a vibrant adaptation of writer-illustrator Scarry’s comic vision of a bustling municipality populated by animal characters. The world-premiere musical (for ages 4 and up) is a direct adaptation of “What Do People Do All Day?,” one of several Scarry works filling out Busytown’s anthropomorphic cosmology.
At a recent SCT matinee, kids were ecstatic watching Busytown’s denizens come to life. The near-iconic critters include Huckle Cat (Matt Wolfe), his mom Grocer Cat (Lisa Estridge), cocker spaniel cop Sgt. Murphy (Allen Galli), Betsy Bear (Khanh Doan), Farmer Alfalfa (Auston James, though I saw the good understudy MJ Seiber), and Lowly Worm (a puppet handled by Don Darryl Rivera, who also portrays Blacksmith Fox).
The half-dozen actors play multiple characters, but Busytown’s multitudes are so numerous that many endearing figures from the book — including the rascally Bananas Gorilla and perpetually confused Mr. Frumble — are represented by cutouts and dolls.
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Befitting the flurry of energy on Scarry’s pages, the action (staged by SCT artistic director Linda Hartzell) is layered and ceaseless. But it always has a strong focus.
At the start, young Huckle learns about Busytown’s local economy, specifically, how the craftsmen, retailers and service providers are interdependent, paying one another so all can thrive.
After that, much of the story is taken up with international complications about throwing a birthday party. The tone ranges from wistful to slapstick.
The script’s careful balance of little, interlocking narratives adding up to a big story is familiar territory for Kevin Kling, who adapted Scarry’s book. Kling, an author-performer whose funny and moving monologue “How? How? Why? Why? Why?” was recently staged at Seattle Rep, excels at narrative streams that flow in and out of one another but eventually resonate.
He approaches the charming confusion of “Busytown” much as he does his quirky Minnesota tales, and slyly tosses in little pop-culture references, hoping parents keep up. It’s well worth the effort to do so.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org