Theater Review: ‘Heidi' at Imagination Stage, Bethesda

Tara Giordano, center, with Chris Wilson and
Tara Giordano, center, with Chris Wilson and "goats" Doug Wilder and Sandra L. Murphy. (By Scott Suchman)
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By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 6, 2009

Kids love "Heidi" for Heidi, the plucky heroine of one of the most-translated books in the world. Heidi puts up with a cranky grandfather, a sinister nanny and a moody young goatherd, coming up smiling every time.

Thanks to a sprightly turn by Tara Giordano, that indomitability shines in the new production at Bethesda's Imagination Stage. Giordano's scrappy can-do spirit isn't multilayered, but it's sincere enough that the energy is infectious as Heidi skips up the Swiss Alps (simply but colorfully rendered in Milagros Ponce de Leon's set). Kids will empathize, too, as Giordano's insistent Heidi tries to thaw the frosty relations of Johanna Spyri's time-honored plot.

The show features a straightforward new script by Martha King De Silva and songs by Joan Cushing. The music is kid-friendly and accomplished, as Cushing weaves easy melodies into duets and trios that are tunefully (if not strikingly) sung by the personable cast.

If there is a squirm factor to the show, it's in the wan arrangements for the songs, which are sung to a recording that's heavy on generic synthesizer effects. The computerized toots and wheezes are bland and sleepy, undercutting the nifty moods Cushing goes for as, say, Heidi sings to the bright stars in the Alpine sky.

Still, kids will delight in the goat puppets that galumph and baa (and even sing a chorus or two). They will also be intrigued by the trapdoor in the stage, with characters entering and exiting as if up and down a steep mountain slope.

Janet Stanford's effective cast includes Terrence Currier as the flinty grandfather, the convincing Chris Wilson as Peter (the likable but jealous young goatherd), and Sandra L. Murphy, whose performance as Frau Rottenmeier (Clara's strict nanny) is so villainous that the crowd cheers her misfortunes. This "Heidi" isn't distinguished, exactly, yet it's lively enough -- think goats joining in a oom-pah-pah tune about milking and other rural chores -- to keep young eyes wide open.

Heidi, book by Martha King De Silva, music and lyrics by Joan Cushing. Directed by Janet Stanford. Choreography, Michelle Melvin; lights, Shawn E. Boyle; costumes, Kathleen Geldard; props, Andrea "Dre" Moore. With Peter Boyer, Kate Guesman, Anne Marie Pinto and Doug Wilder. About 90 minutes. Through May 17 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or visit www.imaginationstage.org.


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