Since 1947, millions of parents have read Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon to millions of pajama-clad children. Over and over and over again.
The premise of the book is very straightforward and simple — Bunny says goodnight to a long list of things that inhabit his world, like a red balloon and of course, the moon.
When Lexington Children's Theatre announced Goodnight Moon would be the final show in its 2011-12 season, I imagined the shortest theatrical production on record. Seven minutes tops. Or maybe art would imitate life and they would hire a toddler to shout "Again!" at the end and repeat the whole show until the audience fell asleep.
Turns out, Chad Henry's musical adaptation of the play is an hourlong, action-packed bedtime romp. Even though the actors are clad in costumer Eric Abele's cozy PJs, the show is anything but a snoozefest.
To bulk up the substance of the play, Henry imagined fully realized versions of the items that inhabit the little bunny's world.
For instance, Bunny doesn't simply say goodnight to the mural of the cow jumping over the moon, it comes to life. Clarabelle the Cow climbs through Bunny's windowsill with a noisy entourage, complete with the Cat and the Fiddle, the Little Dog Who Laughs, and the Dish and the Spoon. The rambunctious group delivers a three-act circus right in Bunny's bedroom, with comical Clarabelle failing in her first two tries at jumping over the moon.
The three bears play musical chairs. And another book, The Runaway Bunny, does more than sit on a shelf. It comes to life, and the entire story is given musical treatment in a whirlwind of creative choreography. Sara Vazquez, who plays Bunny's mother, is particularly enjoyable in this scene.
Brianna Case, Matt Bass, Antony Russell and Carly Crawford are contagiously funny in their multiple roles. What's more, they keep the pace speeding along and they navigate director Vivian Snipes' imaginative blocking with fluidity.
Carlos Leon deserves praise for his lead role as Bunny. Leon seems at home wielding Abele's lifelike puppetry. and his laid-back but curiosity-driven characterization is a nice balance to the high-octane characters who keep him up past his bedtime.
Crawford's puppetry and spunky characterization of Mouse was a hit with the children in the morning school show I attended.
Another audience favorite was Russell's hilarious portrayal of the Tooth Fairy.
Laura Greenfield's set design makes clever use of the book's elements, including a picture frame book cover that the entire cast uses to literally jump into the book. And Nancy Ward's musical direction hits all the right notes.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the staged version of Goodnight Moon is that it is free of any hard-hitting or even hidden message. It is simply devoted to one of the most ordinary and special aspects of childhood — going to bed, not wanting to, and letting a young imagination run wild before it runs out of gas and finally nods off.