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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

Fresh, Funny ‘U Bug Me’ at First Stage

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Even bugs know that people consider them a nuisance. Just ask Keno the Centipede, who is the narrator in U Bug Me, an original folk-rock musical currently being performed by Milwaukee’s First Stage Children’s Theater.

However, people aren’t the only things that bother bugs. Big bugs pick on little bugs. Nasty bugs steal from good bugs. Thankfully, friends can be found where you least expect them. Those are some of the lessons learned in this musical by Jeremiah Clay Neal, a Las Vegas native who developed the show several years ago during First Stage’s New Play Workshop.

The musical is fresh and funny, filled with silly moments and a few thoughtful ones. An onstage rock band provides music throughout (while sitting on an anthill, no less). The musicians, led by Milwaukeean John Nicholson, certainly deserve their spot on center stage. They give a professional sound to this bug-infested musical.

As with most First Stage productions, adult actors mix with their younger counterparts. In a production seen last weekend, the Bumble cast was in charge.

As Pico the Fly, Avi Borouchoff gets himself into all kinds of trouble before he’s finally booted out of the back yard. He insists on “dating” someone from another species, in this case a young caterpillar (played by Erin Stapleton). And despite his attempts to assist his scientific-minded friend (John Giesige as Esteban the Earwig), the perpetually tardy Pico always arrives too late to be of much help. So, in a journey reminiscent of The Lion King, he flies off to another part of the garden. There he meets two comic sidekicks, a pair of roaches named Olive and Tavo (played by adult actors Rana Roman and Chase Stoeger). They offer a hilarious sendup of comedians Cheech and Chong. The cockroaches give Pico some advice on acceptance and forgiveness. Keno the Centipede (Todd Denning) keeps the audience up to speed on what is about to happen next.

The show’s gentle, pleasant rock sound (coordinated by music director Paul Helm), eye-popping costumes and non-scary special effects are sure to enchant younger audiences. Impressive choreography (by Molly Rhode) and the hip cockroaches will keep pre-teens and teens riveted as well. Kudos to director Jeff Frank, First Stage’s artistic director, for artfully blending these elements.

U Bug Me
is designed to entertain children age 5 and above. It continues in the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through March 13. For tickets, contact the box office at (414) 273-7206.
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