No Whispering Hush In a Delightful 'Moon'

Margaret Wise Brown's classic picture book "Goodnight Moon" is brought wonderfully alive in the production now at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
Margaret Wise Brown's classic picture book "Goodnight Moon" is brought wonderfully alive in the production now at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. (Adventure Theatre)
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 5, 2008

Would that sleeplessness were always as beguiling as it is in "Goodnight Moon," the adorable and spiffy-looking children's musical that's heading to the Atlas Performing Arts Center, after a run at the Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo Park.

Based on the iconic picture book but considerably more antic, this hour-long romp -- directed by Mary Hall Surface -- conjures up dancing constellations, magical furniture, vaudeville turns by nursery rhyme characters, and a male tooth fairy who looks like a debonair, winged dentist.

No wonder the show's excitable young protagonist, Bunny, initially resists the arms of Morpheus.

Adapter-composer Chad Henry eventually does coax the pajama-clad rabbit (Kurt Boehm) into the drowsy, reverent mood that suffused Margaret Wise Brown's 1947 book. And in this staging, co-produced by Adventure and D.C.'s Tribute Productions (the musical premiered last year in Seattle), the source material is never far from the mind, thanks to Tony Cisek's knockout set -- a dead ringer for the room in Clement Hurd's original illustrations. The green walls, the red carpet, the mittens drying on a rack, the yellow rocking chair where the Old Lady (Judy Simmons, wearing a floral dress and rabbit ears) sits and knits, the hovering red balloon -- these and other pictorial elements seem to have miraculously teleported out of the HarperCollins edition and into three-dimensional space.

As familiar as it looks, however, Cisek's room harbors surprises. The blue clock over the mantelpiece executes jumping jacks; the balloon meanders of its own accord; the dollhouse buzzes and twinkles, as if inhabited by elves; and a rotary telephone briefly turns into a googly-eyed creature that might have stepped out of "The Muppet Show."

Popping in periodically, and rivaling the kinetic decor, is a range of animals depicted by members of the talented five-person cast. The book's mouse and kittens are present -- they're marionettes manipulated by the actors (who wear chic green-and-orange pajamas for these scenes, rather than traditional puppeteer black; Timm Burrow designed the production's fetching costumes and Eric Brooks masterminded the puppet movement).

We also encounter figures from the paintings on the walls. The three bears depicted on one canvas, for instance, seem to vanish behind the frame and reappear at floor level (where they're played by Cyana Cook, Danny Pushkin and Jennifer Timberlake). Here, dressed in ursine-brown tailcoats, they tap-dance and play musical chairs. (Adventure Theatre Artistic Director Michael J. Bobbitt devised the show's exuberant choreography, which suits the now-peppy, now-honeyed score.)

In a more developed subplot, justified by the painting of a leaping cow, the characters from the nursery rhyme "Hey, Diddle Diddle" materialize to sing a boogie-woogie number. Led by the fiddle-wielding Cat (a jaunty Timberlake), who's clad in a razzle-dazzle purple music-hall outfit, the gang includes the Dish that Ran Away with the Spoon (Cook) -- a sultry, twirling figure in a tropical-hued dress and a gigantic saucer-shaped hat.

Boehm's endearing portrait of Bunny provides continuity through the carnivalesque comings and goings. Jumping up and down on the bed, racing around the room, clamoring for a pre-bedtime glass of water, he exudes childlike boisterousness. Simmons is engagingly maternal as the Old Lady, a role that showcases her strong singing voice. (She also plays a woebegone cow.) In a winning cameo, Pushkin is cheerful and nerdy as the Tooth Fairy, decked out a white medical coat.

With such sweet and wacky characters to watch -- and with the set soliciting nostalgia -- "Goodnight Moon" is likely to divert parents as well as children (the production staff recommends it for ages 1 through 8). As a special bonus, audiences at Friday night performances (most of the shows are matinees) are encouraged to show up in pajamas. Milk and cookies will be provided.

Goodnight Moon, musical adaptation by Chad Henry, based on the children's book by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrator Clement Hurd. Directed by Mary Hall Surface; musical direction, Jay Crowder; lighting, Dan Covey; sound, Matthew M. Nielson; props, Dre Moore; puppets and video, the Puppet Co. One hour. Through June 22 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Call 202-399-7993 or visit

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