Before the review, a full disclosure: I had never heard of “Freckleface Strawberry” until a notice from Grand Rapids Civic Theatre reminding me it was the upcoming children’s theater production. While the book came out when my daughters were 7 and 9, and certainly would have been in their reading level, they gravitated to such titles as “Pinkalicious” and “Fancy Nancy,” both of which had come out a year or two before “Freckleface Strawberry.”
My guess why actress Julianne Moore’s book never made it into our reading repertoire would be that we hadn’t had to deal with freckles, much less red hair. So in our household, when you say “Freckleface Strawberry,” you are bound to get the response my husband said as I was on my way out the door to see Civic’s production: “Oh, Strawberry Shortcake.”
It was actually an interview with Civic’s Associate Director Allyson Paris, who was directing the show, that piqued my interested. The comment that caught my attention was that the musical was smart and funny. “It’s upbeat, modern and really refreshing.”
I tend to seek out shows I have not seen before and with that kind of positive preview, I convinced my now 15-year-old daughter to go with the promise it would only be an hour (and it was to about the exact minute) and that we would have frozen yogurt afterwards to reflect on the production.
We both agreed that the caliber of a Grand Rapids Civic Theatre production is about bar none. If you want to see a good show at a decent price (tickets for “Freckleface Strawberry are $10 – $16), go see a Grand Rapids Civic Theatre production. If you’ve got an hour between now and May 1, go see “Freckleface Strawberry the Musical.” Kids are optional as this show about a 7-year-old learning to accept who she is has a message for everyone – young, old and in between. And the cast will literally dance its way into your heart thanks to the amazing choreography of William Shutte.
Speaking of the cast, it is full of characters each having their own moment which helps to story to unfold. Those moments started with Hailey Clack, as Emily, with her “love” song “I Like Danny;” the duet between Elizabeth Foster, as ballet girl, and Abbie Westers, as Freckleface Strawberry, in “Lonely Girl” (coincidentally both girls played Jane Banks in Civic Theatre’s 2015 production of “Mary Poppins;” and Gabriel Buskard’s, as Jake, nearly perfect pitch in the gospel-like “When You Got Friends.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Freckle Mafia lead by familiar Civic Theatre face Steve Place. Place and his crew, featuring Ashlyn Fitch, Sarah Hughes, and Ellie Brower, have almost perfect comedic timing giving everyone something to giggle about.
And finally there is Lindsay Tallman who demonstrates her range playing the new age, free spirited teacher, performing “Creative Mind” to the low key, wisdom-filled mother who delivers the most potent message of all when she sings “childhood is but a moment” in “Once Upon a Time.”
Still this is a production for children and being such is packed with insightful songs that are designed to get its message across – we are all different and that’s the best part.
“Freckleface Strawberry the Musical” runs through May 1 at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, 30 N. Division Ave. For tickets, visit grct.org.