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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Stage’s Delightful ‘No Good, Very Bad Day’

Theater Review

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Alexander is having a bad day. In fact, he’s having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And that’s even before he gets out of bed in the morning, only to find gum stuck in his hair.

First Stage Children’s Theater opened the stage musical version of Judith Viorst’s 1972 award-winning book last weekend. And for all its brevity (70 minutes including a 15-minute intermission), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ends up being a very good, very fine, entertaining production indeed.

Nothing goes right for Alexander from the moment he wakes up. His brothers Nick and Anthony tease him endlessly, kids (and even the teacher) pick on him at school and his best friend downgrades him to No. 3. To make matters worse, he’s the only one in his family with a cavity. Viorst (who named Alexander and his two brothers after her own three sons) wrote the lyrics and Shelly Markham composed the musical score. The tunes engage throughout, from the high-energy “If I Were in Charge of the World” (“A chocolate sundae would be a vegetable”) to the charming finale, “The Sweetest of Nights and the Finest of Days.”

Todd Denning’s quick-change artistry is fun to watch as he moves from Dad to dentist to smooth-talking shoe salesman. Melinda Pfundstein hits all the right notes, literally and figuratively, as the patient, loving Mom and frustrated teacher. And at Saturday night’s performance, First Stage’s Koala cast of young performers were as confident and exuberant a group as ever, with Jacob Bern (a sixth-grader at Bayside Middle School) leading the pack as the forlorn Alexander, maintaining a natural yet sure-footed stage presence.

When Alexander says for the umpteenth time that he’s having “a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” a tiny voice in the audience responded with “me, too” amid roars of laughter.

“Some days are just like that,” Alexander says at the end of his very bad day. Thanks to this production, “the kids, big and little alike,” know just what he means.

First Stage’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day runs through May 9.