New Children’s Theatre Company season blends classics with the brand new (sometimes in the same show)

Gayle LaJoye as “Snowflake” one of the shows announced in the 2014-2015 CTC season. (Image courtesy CTC)

“Part of this season is what I would call ‘dreams fulfilled,'” said Peter Brosius. The artistic director of the Children’s Theatre Company rarely lacks enthusiasm, but when it comes to announcing the 2014-2015 season he takes things to new levels.

This new batch of offerings is the result of years of work, either in the commissioning, or in fitting into visiting artists schedules. Brosius sees some through lines in the season too.

“There’s certainly some themes about community, about families certainly, and how we create a world,” he said during a break from rehearsing his next show “The Scarecrow and his Servant.” These themes are bound together with a central Brosius aim: “How can you make theater experiences that are so utterly different and so surprising and so alive?”

The season starts in mid-September with “Busytown the Musical,” a production based on the beloved picture book by Richard Scarry, as adapted by local stalwarts, playwright Kevin Kling  and composer Michael Koerner. Brosius said the show is almost entirely sung, and he was delighted one day when Koerner dragged him into a rehearsal room and sang him the whole show. It’s recommended for grades K-4.

Next up is a play based on “Seedfolks” by Paul Fleischman. The story tells of a young girl who, in honor of her father who died before she was born, plants a garden on a piece of waste ground in Cleveland. The adults living nearby are deeply suspicious, but slowly become drawn in to what the girl is doing.

“And the exciting thing about this for us,” said Brosius, “is it’s all going to be played by the remarkable actress who has been the star of so many Twin Cities shows, Sonja Parks. And we have been developing this with Sonja for about four years now.” This show is intended for grades 3-8.

The CTC’s holiday show running Nov. 11 through Jan. 4, 2015, is a remounting of “Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Brosius says the company enjoys the challenge of bringing back a past hit and reworking it to make it even better.

The CTC will then present Gayle LaJoye in his show “Snowflake,”  which is about an eccentric Michigander who finds joy and humor in the simplest things. “It’s like a Chaplin or Keaton come to life,” Brosius said. “It’s both unbelievably evocative and tender, and then also hilarious, because Gayle is a fabulous comic performer.” The show which runs Jan. 13 – Feb. 22, 2015 is recommended for grades K-4

The next show, running March 3 – April 4,  is the Mark Twain classic, “Huck Finn,” adapted and directed by CTC regular Greg Banks. Brosius said just three actors will play all the roles in the production. He said when approaching a story like Huck Finn you have to reimagine how to tell the tale, and he believes Banks has done that successfully. “You hear that story in a new way, you see that story come alive in ways that you have never imagined it,” he said.

The Biggest Little House in the Forest Courtesy CTC, photo Dan Norman

The very popular pre-schooler play, “The Biggest Little House in the Forest,” returns in February, featuring its mixture of puppets, bubbles, feathers, and one very hard working actor.  It runs through March 15 and is recommended for ages 2-5.

It’s followed by “Peter Pan the Musical,” a piece Brosius allows he likes because he once played a Lost Boy in a production of the show many years ago. While the CTC has presented Peter Pan before, it’s never been this version, and Brosius is delighted it will be directed by local musical specialist Peter Rothstein.

The season rounds out July 7 – Aug. 20, 2015 with something a little different — an adaptation of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

“It’s part of an initiative we’ve developed of creating work that we call completely immersive and participatory,” said Brosius. He said the CTC will only do it for groups of about 25 at a time, and the emphasis is on participation. He said it’s a way to completely remove the fourth wall between audience and cast, because everyone is in it together.

“It happens in and around the underneath of the stage and in the corridors underneath the theater, and places many audience members have never been,” he said. “And when you come in, you are cast in roles. You are there to help capture the dreaded Captain Nemo. You are an ensign on the ship sent on this adventure.”

“But you want to wear good shoes to this thing because you are going to be moving!” he laughed. At workshops held last year in the Rarig Center at the University of Minnesota, audience members hurtled up and down corridors, as they tried to capture Nemo and his Nautilus. The show developed and directed by Ryan Underbakke is a complete thrill ride.