By PAM HARBAUGH
There are so many things that are right about this news — Riverside Theatre has formed a new department, Riverside Theatricals, which is devoted to creating new musicals.
And, Riverside Theatricals’ first foray into this important field is a delightful children’s musical called “Poodleful!”
How wonderful that an important regional theater like Riverside gives such deserved focus on children’s theater, typically the “red-headed stepchild” of the theater.
Here, Allen D. Cornell, Riverside’s artistic director and CEO, brings together the theater’s resident music director Ken Clifton and director DJ Salisbury to create a musical based on Cynthia Bardes’ engaging “Pansy Mystery Series,” children’s books which follow the exploits of a loving little poodle named Pansy.
Mr. Clifton and Mr. Salisbury came up with the one-hour “Poodleful: A K9 Mystery Musical.” It’s based on Mrs. Bardes’ first book in the series — Pansy at the Palace. In it, sweet little Pansy gets adopted by a sweet little girl who lives at the Palace Hotel in Beverly Hills. After meeting some colorful characters, Pansy helps solve a mystery.
All throughout, the audience is treated to some endearing songs (10 new ones created by Mr. Clifton) and some good lessons, especially the one about being yourself.
Riverside’s production, which had a limited three-day run, was filled with that type of theatrical panache for which Riverside is known. Held in the organization’s children’s theater, it was colorful and clever. Scenic designer Dusty Terrell used periaktoi (three-sides scenic units which turn efficiently to move settings quickly) to become the city pound, the glamorous Palace Hotel and the boudoir of a generous woman who has jewels galore.
An array of doggy bones hanging in perfect formation became a false proscenium. And shimmery silver backdrop became the setting for the show’s most fun number, “Splish Splash.” A pampered white cat strikes the right chord in the witty little tune “Me Me Me Meow.” And the signature number, “Poodleful,” is such a catchy tune you could her young people singing it as they left the theater.
Led by Samantha Cho Grossman in the role of Pansy, the cast of six take on 15 roles with performances as sweet as their characters.
In fact, the entire show is sweet and deserves to be shaken out of its slumber hopefully later in the season. It’s terrific that Riverside is branching out to create new musicals with Riverside Theatricals. And how fitting that they choose a children’s musical as its debut.
Directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury, the Poodleful cast includes: Kelsey Flannery (Desiree/Frida), Samantha Cho Grossman (Pansy), Katherine Hintz (Mrs. Goldleaf), Katie Keller (Avery), Sean Potter (Mr. Dumal), and Ian Thomson (Nigel/Detective Delby).
The Poodleful creative team includes: Ken Clifton (Music Director), Dusty Terrell (Scenic Design), Stephen Stines (Costume Design), Daniel Meltzer (Lighting Design), Josh Schacht (Sound Design), and Nick Voight (Stage Manager).