The sounds of children’s laughter filled the lobby and auditorium at Vive Les Arts Theatre last week as the cast of 21 girls and boys sang, danced and cavorted onstage.
Infectious melodies and familiar tunes from “Dora the Explorer,” the animated TV series on Nickelodeon, were ringing through the house, and director Hayley Dugger, deftly sidestepping a line of quick-moving pint-sized actors, smiled as she explained: “We like to turn our children’s theater into a giant production.”
The spectacle on VLA’s stage included a full-width seascape, complete with two drops, one of which is kept in a constant up-and-down motion to produce the illusion of waves.
“I’ve got my ‘minion army’,” said Lizzi Covert, veteran stage manager, “and one is a 16-year-old guy. It’s his job to pull this weighted rope constantly to keep the waves moving during the show.” A large-scale pirate ship and a glittering treasure chest add production value to the production.
The play is a spin-off of the TV series called “Dora’s Pirate Adventure” and was conceived by Chris Gifford, creator of the series. The stage play’s professional road show has toured throughout North America and is scheduled to travel to the United Kingdom and France. The “Dora” franchise is one of the longest-running shows on Nick Jr., with close to 200 episodes in its broadcast history.
“We had a challenging time with rehearsals,” Dugger said. “STAAR testing and the Easter holiday slowed us down, but with a string of nine (rehearsals) in a row — these actors are troupers, and it’s really come together well.”
The children belted out the chorus and solo songs with no scripts in sight and rarely a prompt from choreographer Kristen Fields, seated at the edge of the platform, script in hand.
With “about 20 songs,” according to Dugger, a fourth-grade teacher who also serves as musical director, “this has been a happy partnership with Kristen.”
Under Dugger and Fields’ direction, actors swarm down through the aisles, sing and dance over the covered orchestra pit and repeatedly engage the audience.
With two short acts separated by an intermission, “it’s perfect for young attention spans,” Dugger said. The production design’s goal was “to look like a pop-up book,” she explained, with an interactive set piece “Wave Your Hats” that should have the audience members flourishing the pirates hats that will be on sale in the lobby.
“It’s super-interactive,” Dugger said. “The whole cast is onstage for the two last songs, and there’s a big confetti cannon that fires into the audience.”
Happiness seemed to be abundant. After Emily Dixon flawlessly performed her offstage solo vocal to spontaneous applause by cast and crew, Dugger said: “This play is good for little kids and older ones remember the songs fondly. It’s just a fun, cute show.”