Standing Ovation for First Graders in Musical Theater Performance
By Jonah Comstock
Intern, Psychology Today
When the Conservatory Lab 1st graders took the stage, it was clearly the culmination of months of work – not only on the part of the students, but also of a creative team that included teachers, parents, and Brendan Shea, a special guest writer from the American Repertory Theater.
The finished production, directed by Jovanne Buckmire and Katie Biro, is a flawlessly executed musical fairy tale that brought the Three Little Pigs into the 21st century through the first-graders’ spirited performances. Shea’s take on the story showcased the students’ experiential learning about the building process. We’re introduced to them in the prologue, wherein their pig parents send them off into the world. One is a hardworking builder, one is a clever scientist, and one is a sensitive soul who likes to draw pictures. We meet these pigs in the opening number, “Build Your House,” one of several snappy pieces by resident artist Levi Comstock which fill out the book. In this number and others, I was impressed by the students’ strong voices and clear articulation, not to mention some cute choreography.
Next, with the help of our narrator, we segue five years later to see the pigs building their houses with different materials – natural ones like wood, and man-made materials like plastic. The structures look great, but, to the pigs’ horror, a trio of Big Bad Wolves has other plans, bulldozing them away to make room for the hastily-constructed Wolf City U.S.A. (A sly tribute to “We Built this City” by Starship, courtesy of one-woman pit orchestra Rebecca Levi, underscores the operation.)
It’s only when the third pig, in the show-stopping solo “Bricks and Dreams”, realizes her dream of becoming an architect, that the three pigs have what it takes to team up and build a Piggyplex the wolves won’t be able to tear down. When the wolves’ flimsy city crumbles, the pigs welcome them into the fold for the final number, a powerful performance of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “If I Had a Hammer.”