Nursery School Musical: Beauty and Brains Wrapped up in a Bagel

I wish I could scoop up all my colleagues from this past summer, with whom I taught an abundance of small children at Neptune Theatre School, and fly them to the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre so that we could all watch Fence Post Productions’ Nursery School Musical together. If you have a child, want a child, have taught a child, know a child, have met a child, or were once a child you may relate ardently to this little musical. It seems to examine all the elation and the anguish of being a parent, of being a child, and of being a teacher in one single, hilarious swoop without ever becoming didactic or heavy-handed.
I often find myself cringing when the satirical takes aim on children because I love children. If you have ever seen Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of J.M. Barrie is an accurate representation of the respect and importance I place on those who have yet to grow up. I think raising and teaching children are two of the very noblest things a person can do in this world, and that both are responsibilities not to be taken lightly (or, I might add, too seriously!). It is clear that the writers of Nursery School Musical, Brett and Racheal McCaig, are parents. Here, they have written a musical that highlights the hilarity involved in the world of a preschooler. This is a world where snowsuits are as much of an enigma as Rubix Cubes, questions are more abundant than stars and penises are a recent discovery. There is also much hilarity in how some hitherto successful, reasonable, intelligent adults morph into overzealous, overactive, overprotective parents once a child is born.
The musical is rooted firmly in its strong characters and their crisp, witty dialogue and songs which poke fun at the art of raising a feminist, environmentalist, not-communist, vegan, hypoallergenic, non peanut, dairy, egg, soy, wheat, Epi-pen welding, Ivy League in training, hot yoga attending, soccer playing, lululemon branded, spiritual, equalitarian child ready to inherit the contemporary world as soon as they stop sucking their thumbs.
The performances in Nursery School Musical are what give this musical its spark of energy, sense of fun, and constant hilarity. Diana Coatsworth is meticulous in her portrayal of Monika, a mom who carries around hand sanitizer (or as my 4-6 year old students called it this summer “hanitizer”; catchy, hey?) and constantly checks the color of her son’s aura. Paul Constable is entirely loveable as Cody, a three year old knowledgeable beyond his years and with a penchant for “cock porn.” Lindsey Frazier is brilliantly oblivious as the wealthy, politically incorrect mom of a three-year-old model in training. Brett McCaig plays Andrew, a postmodern “Everydad” whose sincerity shines, and the overactive Kyle, who wears a helmet. Aaron Walpole is utter perfection as Hank, the tattooed and pierced High School dropout that dads like Andrew have nightmares about. Walpole, like the rest of the cast, rises continually beyond stereotypes, and he has a strikingly beautiful voice. Cailin Stadnyk plays Emma, the three-year-old version of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre from William Finn’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Stadnyk has a brilliant way of isolating the movements of her body and her eyes, which creates a very off-kilter portrayal of this little girl while providing insight into how she mimics the actions of her mother and has no concept beyond the surface of the way she has been taught to behave. Stadnyk also plays Hailey, a domestic diva and late-night stripper with heaps of attitude, massive sex appeal and all-encompassing exhaustion. The star of the show is undoubtedly Kylee Evans, who plays the Nursery School teacher, Ms. Epstein. She captures brilliantly the stress and anxiety that a ticking biological clock, a room filled with three year olds and hovering insane parents often spawns. She has a magnificent, powerful voice, precise comic timing, and a voice and way of pronouncing her words that screams of spending the day reading Dr. Seuss and explaining why eating glue and painting the walls are not such shrewd ideas.
Nursery School Musical is a fun little romp of a show. Some of the songs (music by Andrew Bastianon) are not as memorable as others, but the ones that are great are fantastic. There is this fantastic dance sequence involving strollers which is electrifying (especially if you’re sitting in the front row!). The howls of laughter from the audience are continuous throughout and along with being fabulously funny; this show bursts with heart as well. I hope there are posters for this show at every Daycare Centre in the GTA because I have met every child and (almost) every parent depicted in this show, and I guarantee that Nursery School Musical is the perfect way for anyone who lives in the world of a preschooler to enjoy 80 minutes as a grownup.

On a more personal note, at each performance of Nursery School Musical there are raffle tickets sold before the show for a 50-50 prize draw, and donation envelopes in each program, which benefit ALS Canada. “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a devastating neurodegenerative disease, during which those living with the disease become progressively paralyzed due to degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Eighty per cent of people with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis – unable to breathe or swallow. According to the World Health Organization, neurodegenerative diseases are predicted to surpass cancer as the second leading cause of death in Canada by 2040. ALS has no known cure or effective treatment. For every person diagnosed with ALS a person with ALS dies.”- http://www.als.ca/. ALS is a cause that is very close to my heart because several members of my family have suffered from this awful disease. In some cases ALS is hereditary, as it appears to be in my family, and so for this reason, understandably, my family and I are avid crusaders dedicated to finding a cure for this disease. If you attend Nursery School Musical and find that you have some extra money in your pockets, I would greatly appreciate it if you would donate it to the ALS Society of Canada. Thank you.

Nursery School Musical plays until October 3rd, 2009 at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre. 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto. Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm. Wednesday Mommy Matinee at 2pm (with stroller parking available and “babes in arms” admitted free of charge). Tickets are $27.80 (plus tax) and may be purchased at the Canadian Stage Company Box Offices (26 Berkeley and 27 Front Street E) or by telephone at 416-368-3110 or at www.nurseryschoolmusical.ca

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