BERKELEY -- It was Revenge! Volcanic Explosions! and Buckets of Worms! at the world premiere of "Ivy and Bean, The Musical," by bestselling author Annie Barrows.
The Bay Area Children's Theatre production will run at The Freight & Salvage theater through March 3 before moving to San Ramon's Front Row Theater fir a run from March 9 to 17.
For the Feb. 9 premiere it was filled with climbing, chattering, wiggling-worse-than-worms kids and their parents.
Amid the adolescent storm, Barrows, the Berkeley author whose books are based on the adventures of two 7-year-olds, was calm.
"It's hard to get this kind of energy on the written page, but here, you have it in abundance," she said in a pre-show interview.
BACT Executive Director Nina Meehan said convincing Barrows to unleash her lively, sometimes naughty second grade protagonists on the main stage was effortless.
"I emailed and asked if she'd ever thought about dramatizing her books," Meehan said. "She agreed to collaborate and gave us tremendous feedback during readings of Scott Elmegreen's adaptation."
"Ivy and Bean collaborate all the time," Barrows said. "And they (BACT) got it so right. The genius and frenzy -- where if one thing is fun, two things are more fun -- they got that."
Inviting the audience to enjoy "the very first in the whole wide world performance where imaginary friends sing and dance," Barrows pronounced the production "a wonderful
Ivy and Bean, as readers of the nine-book series well know, are unlikely friends. Ivy is bookish; Bean is bearish.
But finding each other on Pancake Court, the street where they live, meet, imagine, fight and make up (repeatedly), they become a tight team. Especially when battling Bean's older sister, Nancy, or life's ups and downs represented in the form of thumbtacks, Belldeloon cheese, ice cubes, ghosts and a higgledy-piggledy collection of makes-sense-to-a-7-year-old elements.
Set designer Martin Flynn's minimalist facade of white frames set against a black-and-white backdrop, allowed most of the action to happen "outdoors."
Book illustrator Sophie Blackall's trademark pale blues, pinks, yellows and greens -- in clever lighting designed by Stephanie Buchner and jazzed-up, lots-of-stripes costumes by Maggi Yule -- lent a familiarity and believability to the characters' backyard shenanigans.
The musical is an amalgamation of Barrow's books: a wise choice. Instead of restricting the action to one narrative, the musical takes the best of spell casting, exploding volcanos, sister-destroying plots and blood oaths turned "Oath of Liquid" to become a delicious kid's casserole of dancing, singing and acting seven.
Catherine Gloria (Bean) is gregarious, if slightly less growling than the book's version. And Megan Putnam (Ivy) straps on not only a black sorcerer's robe, but an impressive, skyrocketing voice that belies her otherwise pastel disguise.
From these two actors alone, it's clear that BACT employs solid professionals; there's no "playing down" to the younger set. Their hyperkinetic delivery might be pushed, but to good effect, for when was the last time some 60 children under the age of 9 sat still for 75 minutes -- and paid rapt attention -- to adults?
Katie McGee (as Nancy) exclaiming "I'm telling mom!" becomes the show's anthem, and her wickedly arched eyebrow is the first sign there's trouble ahead. Kudos to McGee for finding a balance: In the end, Nancy is not just blameworthy, she's beloved.
Corey Censoprano, Matt Ono and Kimberly Stephenson round out the fine cast, easily taking on multiple sports dude/neighborhood buddies/mom/dad roles. With tight steering by Director Benjamin Hanna, the wildly chaotic world of Ivy and Bean shakes out into a clearly defined, story-driven musical.
What: "Ivy and Bean, the Musical" is at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St. in Berkeley, through March 3.
When: San Ramon shows will be at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9; and at 11 a.m., 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. on March 10, 16 and 17 at the Front Row Theater, 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road.
Information: For tickets, visit www.bactheatre.org/shows/IvyBean.