Theater Info for the Washington DC region

The Children’s Theatre Night at the Wax Museum The Musical

By • Jan 10th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Night at the Wax Museum The Musical by Craig Sodaro (book) and Bill Francoeur (music and lyrics)
Children’s Theatre division of Encore Stage and Studio
Thomas Jefferson Theater, Arlington, VA
Through January 15th
2 hrs with one intermission
Reviewed January 7, 2011

Clever! The thing about wax museums is that they try to get lots and lots of replicas of famous and infamous people into a limited space. And the thing about children’s theater is that lots and lots of young actors must be fitted into the strictly limited dimensions of a stage. Put wax museum and children’s theater together: nice fit.

Well, not that the stage at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre is Arlington is all that limited. It is larger than some of the performance spaces at the Kennedy Center. But when all 30 members of the Night at the Wax Museum — The Musical! cast are on stage together they pretty much occupy every inch of space.

Jessica Campbell as Cleopatra and Eli Wassertzug as Henry VIIILuckily, many of the Wax Museum performers are on the small side. Most of them are middle schoolers, members of the Children’s Theatre Division of Encore Stage & Studio.

Wax Museum is a great favorite of children’s theaters. A. it’s about children, so it is age appropriate. B. it is vaguely educational. C. it has a smidgen of love interest, but nothing kissy face that would make middle schoolers gag. And D. it has plenty of brawls, which more than offset the possible drawbacks of love interest. And E., the brawls are nice brawls, no blood, just goofing around, just kidding.

The story involves five middle schoolers who have been sentenced to extreme detention: summer school. They have failed history and have to go remedial. Their teacher signs them up for a work/study stint at her aunt’s wax museum — which is full of historical figures ranging from Cleopatra and Henry VIII to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

A subplot involves the aunt and some of her culture conscious friends. They have a long lease on the museum building, which is owned by a money conscious woman. A developer has offered the building owner a ton of money for her property. The deal involves demolishing the museum and putting up a mall.

And then there’s the love interest: the museum handy man and the enterprising history teacher were high school sweethearts. They broke up four years ago with harsh words and hurt feelings. And here they are, together again, as scrappy as ever — a sure sign that more is in store.

Neither the main plot nor the sub plot characters nor the reunited lovers have reckoned with the magic incantation engraved inside the Cleopatra figure’s bracelet. When those fateful words come into play, plot and sub plot and love interest go kablooey.

Encore director Sara Strehle Duke’s production of Wax Museum is peppy. Her 30 cast members have their lines and lyrics down. Most of them have most of their dance moves under at least tentative control. The songs, with recorded accompaniments, are pretty simple, but even when the tunes break up into melody and counter melody, the kids keep on top of their parts. 

Diction is sometimes a problem, but most of the lyrics and the dialogue come across with sufficient clarity. 

Jessica Campbell, as Cleopatra, and Paige Cilluffo, as the money conscious museum building owner, show promise as future stage musical belters. They project their songs with clarity and dramatic verve.

Perry Kaufman and Abby England, as the reunited high school sweethearts, play out their ambivalence with appealing awkwardness.

Just as the over-the-top Lizzie Borden character is becoming irksome, the actor who plays Lizzie, Sean Willner, pulls off a most welcome dramatic twist.

Costumes for this show could eat up a Phantom of the Opera budget of $1 million. The clothing provided by Encore designer Debra Leonard isn’t spectacular but the costumes do the job. Pirate queens Anne Bonney and Madame Ching, Renaissance English king Henry VIII, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, Cleopatra the regal Egyptian goddess/empress and frontier proto-feminist Calamity Jane are all presentably and appropriately outfitted. 

Challenge to those of you who intend to see this production: Can you spot the Internal Revenue Service operative? Watch for the good faith clue planted about half way through the show.

Disclaimer: Encore Stage & Studio provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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