Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Miss Nelson Is Missing! was an enjoyable “blast from the past” for this adult who remembers reading the imaginative children’s story in childhood. The RLT show not only brings these memories to life, but creates an experience all its own.
The first thing that will impress you in the amazingly simple and yet infinitely complex set. At one end of the stage, there is a colorful wall set, filled with frames and shallow boxes. This ingenious design, created by Thomas Mauney, is expressive and utilitarian. Much like Vanna White’s wall of boxes on Wheel of Fortune, it transforms the scene with a flip of a panel. You’ll be eagerly waiting to see what’s behind all of the spaces. Unexpected interactions are many and are a joy.
Rebecca Leonard (Miss Nelson/Viola Swamp) is a delightful presence; she is the embodiment of all passionate elementary-school teachers who love to teach. She owns her songs, and her voice is perfect for this character and her alter ego!
Miss Nelson’s class is an astonishing collection of excellent young singers and performers who create the most frustrating, obnoxious, and yet somehow lovable group of kids. Michael McKenna (Adam) throws paper airplanes and folds them in the blink. He has wonderful timing, and his reactions are some of the best in the show.
Adeira Hunter (Allison) is an overactive achiever with a jump rope, and she has no patience for the zany boys in class. There’s a sort of bond between the girls that is refreshing to see. They seem to support each other, even as they are completely disrupting class.
Olivia Bouzigard (Cheryl) (seen in OPQRS, Etc.) is the fragile drama queen. Even a wrong glance sends her into a fit of tears, hiding under her trademarked pail.
Connor Gerney (Gregory) is Miss Nelson’s loudest and most troublesome student. He enters class with headphones blaring, singing everything from ABBA to Queen (a very nice choice for the adults in the audience), while he obsessively chews a straw that doubles as a spit-wad cannon. His low-register singing voice is beautiful, and rounds out this quartet of talented singers nicely. The group’s transition from hooligans to worried kids is endearing, and following their child-like logic trains are part of the show’s big heart.
Jesse R. Gephart (Pop/Blandsford/McSmogg/Catraz) has the ultimate acting job of becoming not one but four characters over the course of the show. His Pop, the Janitor, is charismatic and lovable. Gephart’s Principal Blandsford is hilarious and unbelievable, and Blandsford’s character’s song is also. Jesse is a local gem, and will have you rolling in the aisle with his commitment to these silly characters. His Inspector McSmogg and Al Catraz are similarly hilarious and unbelievable. The entire family will enjoy Gephart’s antics in every scene.
The energy is good throughout the show, although the point is a little worn thin by the end, especially for adults and those who know the books. This production has enough talent, surprises, and creativity to keep all the kids laughing and all the adults engaged as well. Some technical glitches occurred, but didn’t detract from the spirit of the show; and the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre swallowed the volume of the singing a bit, despite the performers singing loudly.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! is a delightful production, with a dedicated, talented cast. Don’t miss it. You have two more weekends to see it, starting tonight!
SECOND OPINION: March 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Spencer P. Phillips: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7879.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents MISS NELSON IS MISSING! at 7:30 p.m. March 17 and 18, 1 and 5 p.m. March 19 and March 20, 7:30 p.m. March 24 and 25, and 1 and 5 p.m. March 26 and 27 in its Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $17 ($11 children 12 and under).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Sd000000CuunpEAB.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/missnelson.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/1429332680462500/.
RLT‘s 2015-16 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/index.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 5 p.m. Sunday, March 20th, performance.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! (1977) and Miss Nelson Is Back (1982): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Viola_Swamp (Wikipedia!).
Harry G. Allard (author): http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/harry-g-allard (Kidsreads bio).
Miss Nelson Is Missing! (2001 musical): http://www.joancushing.com/musicalsMissNelsonMissingSynopsis.html (official page).
Joan Cushing (book, music, and lyrics): http://www.joancushing.com/ (official website).
Kathleen Rudolph (director and RLT associate education director): http://raleighlittletheatre.org/learn/youth/faculty.html (RLT bio).
Diana Cameron McQueen of Raleigh, NC is an actor working in the Triangle area and beyond. She is a lifelong theatergoer, which she credits as her real theater education. She is an alumna of Enloe High School in Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). After returning to Raleigh in 2012, she debuted as an actor in the area. McQueen is mostly known for her performances as Vanda in Venus in Fur (2015) at Raleigh Little Theatre and as Queen Elizabeth I in The Lost Colony (2013-14) in Manteo, NC; and she most recently starred as Louise in The Underpants at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh. She’s passionate about and advocates for diversity and representation in media. McQueen lives with two very lovable cats, Odin and Aurelia. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.