One can imagine a theatrical production that hewed closely to the spirit of the picture book Corduroy. It would be short and cozily staged. Corduroy could be a puppet. It would be the kind of show you might see at Open Eye Figure Theatre, or In the Heart of the Beast.
Children's Theatre Company
It's the Children's Theatre Company, though, that secured the rights to adapt Corduroy. The result is 90 minutes of madcap hijinks as the eponymous teddy bear ransacks a department store in search of a missing button for his overalls. The play is having its world premiere on the Cargill Stage as Don Freeman's classic story celebrates its 50th anniversary.
As adapted by Barry Kornhauser, Corduroy jumps back and forth between two parallel stories. A little girl named Lisa (Ileri Okikiolu) spies Corduroy (Dean Holt) sitting on a store shelf and falls in love with the slightly shabby stuffed bear. Her mother (Lauren Davis) will advance Lisa's allowance to buy Corduroy only if Lisa successfully completes a series of chores, but despite Lisa's best efforts, things just keep going wrong.
Meanwhile, Corduroy embarks on a quest for a button missing from his signature green overalls. A mystified night watchman (Dwight Leslie, stepping in as understudy for Reed Sigmund) grows increasingly mystified, and disheveled, as he chases the inexplicably mobile toy all over the store, convinced that some intruder is causing mischief.
On Saturday afternoon, a packed house of young children and their adults were far more energized by the misadventures of Corduroy than by the travails of the luckless Lisa. While Okikiolu and Davis are warm and endearing, their story could have been trimmed to make the running time less of an ask for kids in the Corduroy demographic. ("This is, like, eight hours," one youngster moaned to her shushing mother as the show neared its conclusion.)
Whenever Holt appeared as Corduroy, the kids lit up. Director Peter C. Brosius very nicely deploys a touch of stage magic to transform a little stuffed bear into the fur-suited Holt, one of many lucid and charming effects. Meredith "Mimi" Kol-Balfour and Keegan Robinson play two silent stagehands who disguise themselves as mannequins when they're not spiriting props on and off Torry Bend's nested-proscenium set.
Like the company's Pinocchio, Corduroy celebrates live theater as an alchemy of craft and imagination. Turning set transitions (and even an intermission mop job) into entertaining vignettes is typical of the production's attention to detail and sense of fun. Kids won't soon forget the sight of Corduroy climbing a toppling tower of toilet paper; or getting wrapped in an impossibly long elastic cord connecting a button to a mattress; or fleeing a steadily inflating vacuum cleaner that has a mind of its own.
Fans of the book may find it a little incongruous to turn the sweet, simple Corduroy into a G-rated Home Alone. Once you get past that, though, the show's patient performances and sheer inventiveness are almost certain to win you over.
IF YOU GO:
Children's Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-874-0400; through May 20