First Stage's "Spookley the Square Pumpkin" is a lively and interactive show, perfect for young kids to celebrate autumn and get excited for Halloween. But more importantly, it helps children learn about the importance of accepting those who are different, and embracing one's own unique qualities.
"Spookley" is part of the "First Steps" program geared towards ages 3-7, which means parents can bring even their youngest kids to the show without worrying about them acting like, well, kids. It is designed to introduce children to a live theater experience in an age-appropriate way.
Kids have the choice to sit on carpet squares in the front rows, on spacious risers, or in chairs towards the back. At the performance we attended this past Sunday, some kids even switched seats mid-show (including my daughter, who realized halfway through that the carpet squares are where it's at).
The run-time is relatively short at 51 minutes. The production easily keeps kids' fickle attention with a bright and colorful set, expressive pumpkin and spider puppets, and talented actors. Audience members were even encouraged to dance along during the final song, and many did.
The story was perfectly paced for children, starting with an energetic introduction to the pumpkins who live on Holiday Hill Farm. All of the them want to be the Pick of the Patch this year, and they all seem to get along well with each other. But their comfortable world is turned upside down when Spookley arrives at the farm.
Spookley is kind and soft-spoken, but she is different from all of the other pumpkins. Her square shape makes her an outcast who is teased by the others. With the support of a few spider friends (named Edgar, Allen, and Poe), Spookley eventually proves her worth to herself and the others who have bullied her. Those who were unkind to her ultimately see the err of their ways.
Zach Thomas Woods steals the show as "Little Tom / Big Tom", two brother pumpkins, connected at the vine, with completely different personalities. He brings them to life simultaneously and seamlessly. Little Tom leads his fellow pumpkins in casting Spookley out and making her believe the worst about herself. In a way that is both accessible to young kids and poignantly recognizable to adults, Woods adeptly represents the motivations and actions of a true bully.
Audience members enjoy a talk-back feature at the end of the show, where anyone can ask questions directly to the cast. It's an exciting way for kids to learn about everything that goes into a live theater production, and perhaps inspire them to get involved.
Spookley runs on Saturdays and Sundays through October 29th at First Stage's Main Stage in the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut St. in Milwaukee.
A special sensory-friendly performance, designed to serve families with children on the autism
spectrum and other sensory, social and cognitive disabilities will take place on Saturday,
October 14 at 3:30 p.m. Families can enjoy a welcoming, comfortable environment including lower sound, lights up, and available quiet areas staffed by experienced educators.
Find out more or buy tickets here.
Photography by Paul Ruffolo