A review of Seattle Children's Theatre's new musical based on Crockett Johnson's classic "Harold and the Purple Crayon" story books.
“One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.”
That’s the inviting first sentence of the classic storybook “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” by Crockett Johnson, a whimsical celebration of a child’s visual imagination.
The captivating new musical of the same title at Seattle Children’s Theatre is a celebration of the theatrical imagination.
How to stage a story for the 4- to 6-year-old set, that on paper unfolds as a marvelous succession of images little Harold draws with his trusty crayon?
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The resourceful team of director Rita Giomi, set designer Matt Smucker, lighting designer L.B. Morse and other wizards have stretched their own creative powers to conjure a charming sketchbook of a show, using dance, song, puppetry, animation and other eye- and ear-catching elements.
And they’ve found a sublime Harold in the exuberant actor Don Darryl Rivera, who also wrote the show’s book (drawn from several “Harold” volumes), and sings out the enjoyably eclectic, world beat-inflected score by Auston James and Rob Burgess.
Garbed in pale-blue footie pajamas, and quietly assisted by two sidekick “storytellers” (actors Khanh Doan and Caety Sagoian), Harold playfully follows his bliss to draw clouds and stars, trees and birds, an ocean and sea creatures, a spaceship and a dragon, which appear and evaporate with magical seamlessness.
What he needs in the moment, he draws. And what he draws takes on a life of its own.
Judging by the excited reactions of an attentive throng of small children at the matinee I attended, Harold’s encounters with a wiseguy puppet porcupine, and a big, white balloon, and a chattering crew of friendly mini-space aliens, are some high points for kids.
There are a few treacly lyrics in the show, and some slow spots in the first of the two acts (which add up to about an hour).
But Rivera is such great company, and the technically sophisticated projections and other visuals are accomplished so gracefully, it all seems like — well, child’s play.
What’s heartening about the show as well is its immediacy as a live-action adventure unfolding in real time and up close.
There have been numerous animated movie and TV versions of the “Harold” books. But this gentle live musical should inspire genuine “how’d-they-do-it?” wonder. And maybe quite a few requests for a big purple crayon, and lots of blank paper.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org