HTY Makes Amazing Magic Happen in 'The Red Balloon'
The magic begins as soon as the lights come up on the Parisian skyline, featuring the Eiffel Tower, against the blue sky of early morning. The street sweeper is collecting the litter left from the previous night, but wait, what’s this? Every time he tries to get it all together in a pile, one crushed can rolls away. He sweeps it together again. Again the can rolls away as if it has a mind of its own. The street sweeper is scared. Already the kids in the audience are giggling. The fun has begun.
There are only 4 actors in the cast, but by assuming a myriad of characters, the streets of Paris are soon bustling with all the Parisians on their way to work, delivering bread, bringing the mail. All are speaking the French of morning greetings: Bon jour! Ça va? And they dance the dance of morning commuters.
Pascal, the young boy who is the main character of the piece (energetically played by Christina Uyeno), opens his shutters and looks out on the day. He will soon be on his way to school and on his way to adventure with his new best friend, the red balloon.
If you know the original movie, The Red Balloon, you may wonder how it could possibly be transformed into a theatre piece. Rest assured, not only has the director/playwright Annie Cusick Wood made it possible, she has assembled a team of artists to make the magic happen. The cast is terrific and they are given wonderful music (Pierre Grill includes some familiar tunes from his native France) and dance (Nathaniel Niemi gets the actors to synchronize like the Rockettes) to fill out the story. Two tall rectangular prisms on wheels (sets by Karen Tennet) are the Parisian buildings that can transform into Pascal’s home, the gates of the school, a protective wall. And there are fluttering bird puppets and a dancing butterfly. The rest of the artistic team, Karen Kiefer, Chesley Cannon, and Harmony Turner, also deserve much credit for their part in making the magic.
The balloon is sometimes able to move all by itself. (How did they DO that?) At other times, a puppeteer (HTY veteran “Junior” Tesoro) moves the balloon by means of a long stick and expresses all the balloon’s feelings as it plays with Pascal. Maile Holck plays a mean teacher (and many other characters) who gets her comeuppance from the balloon. Matthew Mazzella is a dancer extraordinaire also taking on many roles.
Kudos to everyone involved with this bouncy child-pleaser. I don’t want to give away the story to those that don’t know it, but there is an anti-bullying message inherent in the play which was quite apparent even to the youngest audience members. As usual, there were kids who added their voices to the afternoon. One tried to help: “I know where the balloon is!” And another in reference to the two bullies in the play: “They were not very nice.” Exactly. The organization Ceeds of Peace gets special thanks in the program, and they expressed their aim to help everyone find peace and justice in home and community in a short speech after the show.
Again Honolulu Theatre for Youth has put together a super professional production that kept the very youngest (and oldest) enthralled to the end. It’s really obvious when a show is not working for kids, and it’s clear that this one kept them all focused throughout.