This summer, kids can find adventure indoors as well as out — on area stages. There’s a new musical about Garfield, that lazy, lasagna-scarfing cat, at Adventure Theatre MTC; a 360-degree, British “Peter Pan” extravaganza aims to dazzle kids and adults alike; and Happenstance Theater will hark back to circuses of the 1930s and ’40s.
Jim Davis, creator of the “Garfield” comic strip, made one thing clear to Michael J. Bobbitt, Adventure Theatre’s producing artistic director, when the pair were writing the script for Garfield: The Musical With Cattitude, with music and lyrics by John L. Cornelius II. They agreed easily on how to portray Garfield, the droll, passive-aggressive cat that Davis introduced to the world in 1978. The issue was Garfield’s best pal, Odie, a rather dim hound. Odie, Davis told Bobbitt, must not speak or sing real words.
“I’m like, but in ‘[You’re a Good Man,] Charlie Brown,’ Snoopy sings,” Bobbitt recalls. But Davis was implacable. “He was like, ‘We don’t care. Odie does not speak human.’ ” He might woof Garfield a “Rappy rirfday!” or yowl “AH OOO” or “RAH-RHOW!,” but no English is allowed.
It took a few years for Bobbitt to persuade Davis to collaborate on a Garfield musical. They tried to adapt a script written for a larger production that never happened, but then set that aside and wrote an original story about Garfield running away from home when he thinks that his human, Jon, and his animal friends, Odie, Arlene the cat and Nermal, the kitten who likes to remind Garfield that he’s old, have forgotten his birthday.
Garfield, says Bobbitt, is “a bit of a curmudgeon . . . outside of his humor and the fact that we crack up at him, it was hard to figure out a way to make sure that little kids could relate to Garfield. And so the idea of it being his birthday — that little kids can really get into.”
Davis agreed. “Michael absolutely dialed into the character,” he said from his home studio near Muncie, Ind. The script, he adds, “just flows and it’s filled with Garfieldisms. . . . It plays the way I do the strip and have done the TV shows, in that it’s a little bit adult, it’s a little bit kid — a lot of physical action for the kids and some adult asides, you know, with Garfield’s motivation about overeating, oversleeping.”
It will be up to actor Evan Casey to be Garfield — in sweats, sneakers and a knit cap. He calls the comical cat “the CEO of his world” who “gets everyone else around him to do his bidding.” After studying the comic strips and animated show, Casey says he realized that Garfield “doesn’t have extraneous movements . . . he wants to use every moment that he can to conserve his own energy for sleeping and eating.” His task as an actor, Casey says, is to “try to embody that kind of simplicity.”
“Garfield: The Musical With Cattitude,” June 19-Aug. 23 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org. $19.50. All ages.
It’s jolly good to be bad. Just ask actor Stephen Carlile. Having just completed a U.K. tour of the “Lion King” as the villain Scar, Carlile says he has come to relish playing “baddies.” And this summer, Carlile is getting another such chance: He’s Captain Hook and his alter ego, Mr. Darling, in a production of Peter Pan inside a tent in Tysons Corner.
Such characters, Carlile says by phone from England, are the most fun to play, especially “to be able to really scare the children.
“You have quite a lot of power over [the children], but not too much, obviously,” Carlile quickly adds. “It’s a happy show, it’s a family show. You want to be sort of loved at the same time.”
Still, Hook’s icy stare, should he catch a child’s eye, could be the scariest thing of all. At least the actor hopes so.
“You’ve just got to be careful that you don’t scare them too much, because when you’re standing right next to them, and when you’re 6-foot-3 . . . with a big hook in your hand as well, you have to be quite sensitive,” says Carlile, who vows to adjust his gaze if he sees a child quail too much.
Hook’s right-hand man, Smee, isn’t nearly as fearsome as his boss. Smee is an odd sort of pirate with a maternal streak, says American actor Liam Fennecken, who plays him: “He’ll trick ya, but he’ll do it with a smile.” When he’s not playing Smee, Fennecken is Nana, the huge Newfoundland dog and governess to the Darling children. Actually, he’ll operate the puppet that plays Nana. It’s a learning curve, and the actor poured over YouTube videos of Newfies to study how the breed moves.
“It’s incredible just how little tiny movements can make such a difference,” Fennecken says, “to make a little thing made out of rags look like an actual dog.” Making Nana jump around and activating her “bark mechanism” are relatively easy, he says, “but the real minute things, like walking and breathing, are really hard to get. I’m still working on it, but we’re getting there.”
“Peter Pan,” June 24-Aug. 16 at the Threesixty Theatre, 8200 Watson St., McLean, across from Tysons Corner Center. 800-745-3000. www.peterpan360.com. $30-$140.
Nothing is impossible when you use your imagination. Take that ingredient and fold in comical circus acts, big dollops of whimsy, music and mime, and you have the recipe for Happenstance Theater’s Impossible! A Happenstance Circus. The 80-minute confection, which the troupe premiered last year, follows a group of down-on-their-luck folks in the 1930s who fantasize that they’re part of an old-timey circus. They become jugglers, magicians, trapeze artists, knife-throwers, circus animals, singers and more.
Co-artistic directors and performers Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell did the staging, and the piece was devised by the whole company. “We imagined a circus during the Depression, when there was no money,” Mandell says. The cast speaks bits of dialogue, but the show hangs on a mere wisp of narrative, focusing mostly on movement, music and the impressionistic backstage world of the “circus.”
“It’s all created with imagination because they don’t have any resources,” Mandell adds. “It’s very essentialized and poetic and visual.” And the circus acts, “like juggling and stuff, actually happen incidentally, in the offstage world. . . . They’re pretending like it really is a real circus, performing it for the audience.”
“Impossible! A Happenstance Circus,” June 26-July 12 at Round House Theater, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. 240-644-1100. www.roundhousetheatre.org. $20.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff, in which two Brits — Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner — bash through all seven “Harry Potter” books in 75 minutes and play a game of Quidditch with audience members. Through June 21 in a return engagement at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW. 202-547-1122. www.shakes pearetheatre.org. $39.95-$99.95. Age 6 and older.
Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s American classic, staged in the commedia dell’arte style by Faction of Fools, complete with masks and comic physicality. The Post’s Nelson Pressley called it “an original spellbinder.” Through June 21 at Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave. NE. 800-838-3006. www.factionoffools.org. $12-$25. Age 7 and older.
Double Trouble, a musical based on the novel “Lottie & Lisa” by Erich Kastner, which inspired “The Parent Trap” movies, is the next show at Imagination Stage. Kathryn Chase Bryer directs. The script was adapted by Davis S. Craig, with music by Marc Schubring. June 24-Aug. 14 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. www.imaginationstage.org. $12-$30. Age 5 and older.
Once, the Tony-winning bittersweet musical (based on the Oscar-winning film, rated R for language, in case you plan to watch it to get familiar with the story). It’s about a man and a woman, both musician/composers, who make beautiful music together in Dublin. July 7-Aug. 16 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.
www.kennedy-center.org. $65-$160. Age 10 and older.
Dear Evan Hansen, a new musical with a book by Washington native Steven Levenson, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and starring Ben Platt of the “Pitch Perfect” movies and Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon.” The director is Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal,” “If/Then”). The original script is billed as “a contemporary, intimate story of hope, heartache and the things in life we all need — friends, family and a place to call home.” July 10-Aug. 23, at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org. $40-$100. Age 12 and older.
The BFG earned 11 Helen Hayes Award nominations and two wins for Imagination Stage. In July, the Bethesda troupe is remounting the show at the National Theatre. The production marks a new alliance between Imagination Stage and the National, funded in part by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, designed to make theater more available to Washington children. “BFG,” which stands for Big Friendly Giant, is based on a Roald Dahl book. July 14-25 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-628-6161. www. thenationaldc.org. $14-$38. Age 5 and older.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.