By Patsy Isenberg
The Flint Youth Theatre (FYT) has staged a superlative premier production of “The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On.”
The musical is based on the book of the same name by Albert Cullum, published in 2003 by Harlin Quist. It was adapted into a musical by Michigan playwright Michael Lluberes (also director of the production) with music by Jared M. Dembowski. The final product was a collaborative effort from them all, with musical direction by David Lindsey and Nada Radakovich. The talented cast of kids, all from Flint or nearby towns in Michigan, are the cherry on top.
Not set in any particular time, the story follows a group of elementary school students and offers their perspectives on not only their teacher and being in the classroom, but also other adults in their lives. The set, designed by Daniel Pinha, is quite austere and scaled down cleverly, which puts the focus on the kids.
The musical features 21 original songs with only piano accompaniment. The set pieces moved around effortlessly (yet very energetically) by the kids and the props are creatively done to illustrate the different situations and seasons. Helpful graphics are projected onto a “blackboard” behind the action on stage to enrich the experience for the audience.
The cast consists of four boys and five girls with the teacher off-stage lending only her voice. Everything is done well in this production, but what drives the story is the fact that each of the students seems to fit a different stereotype.
Allie MacDonald plays Amy, the girl who wants to be perfect, the best at everything. Sitting in the front row of desks, she sings “In The Very First Seat” early on. She also does a solo during math where she thinks about numbers and how complicated it is to discern how many are in her family since her mom and dad each have a new one and she goes back and forth.
Another student in the front row is Bobby, played by Dalton Hartwell, the boy who has trouble sitting still, thinks school is a waste of time and isn’t allowed to go the the bathroom as often as he wants. The teacher tells him “he just went.” He sings “Normal” which gets a lot of laughs since most people can relate a little.
Edith Pendell plays Katie, the girl most concerned about the geranium on the windowsill. She’s sings “The Sound of the Rain.” Katie is sensitive and poetic and feels that maybe she’s “the only one” who cares or notices some things around her.
Olivia, played by Yasmine Searcy, sings “Invisible” and feels that the teacher doesn’t really notice her. She also wonders what the teacher does in her “real life” since she never shares anything about that with the kids. Olivia was best friends with Amy at one time but has stopped coming around.
The character of Jacob, played by Joshua Beauchamp, doesn’t feel he fits in with the other boys, hasn’t mastered sports and thinks he’s clumsy. This is hilariously illustrated and explained when he sings “Soccer.” Jacob likes to make stuff up.
The stereotypical troublemaker, Matthew, is wonderfully played by Joey Urgino. Matthew keeps getting in trouble with the teacher and even gets sent to the corner and has an encounter with “the principal.” His best friend is Nick. Urgino’s fight with a stick figure in “Good Me/Bad Me” is particularly delightful.
Nick is the character who prefers to make airplanes out of his writing paper than actually writing. Nick is played by Aidan Allan Riggs. Aidan also does a great number with the character of Matthew involving the principal, being sent to the corner and having his friend’s “back.”
Gaby Bader plays Sara, the smallest girl and the one who sings “You Talk Funny.” In this number Sara describes the very different way their teacher talks to adults. Sara mimics the “mwa-mwa-mwa” language heard in “Peanuts”shows on TV during the song.
And last, but not least, is possibly the most important character of all, played by Adrienne Robinson. Adrienne does an amazing job portraying the geranium. That’s not immediately clear on entering the theater though. She’s sitting there even before the show begins. Throughout the performance this one young actress sits silently, almost motionless, until the end. The character of Katie interacts with her from time to time but it comes as a surprise to find out that she is the geranium.
Shelby Coleman and Mary Paige Rieffel provide the voice of the teacher.
See This Show
Some will be brought to tears by the talent displayed on this stage. Everyone involved in the production deserves high praise for delivering this message to theater goers. It’s a beautiful thing.
“Geranium” runs through May 6. Remaining performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets can be purchased at fyt.org/tickets or at the Whiting Ticket Center, 810-237-7333.
EVM staff writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.