Farmer Brown (the always delightful Samuel Whited III) has a vexing problem on his hands: His animals are tired of spending their nights in a barn that's just too cold and despite their best attempts to focus his attention on their plight, he remains unyielding and they just keep shivering. It's not that Farmer Brown is a meanie-he very clearly cares about the welfare of his animals-but he just can't understand what they're saying.
If only, they could find a way to make sure he gets their message in a clear, concise manner. What to do? What to do?
Completely charming and thoroughly engaging, Click Clack Moo-Cows That Type is given a colorful and upbeat production at Nashville Children's Theatre, under the direction of Scot Copeland who leads his terrific five-person ensemble through the musical that draws on 1960s-style pop and 1940s-flavored swing music to tell its fanciful story.
Sure to delight audiences of all ages, Click Clack Moo-Cows That Type is based on the Caldecott Honor-winning book of the same name by Doreen Cronin, here adapted by James E. Grote, with music by George Howe and lyrics by Howe and Grote. Much credit is due the amazingly versatile and superbly talented Paul Carrol Binkley, the one-man band who provides the show's musical accompaniment and is listed in the program as "Brave Little Combo (and cowbell soloist)." He gives the five performers onstage the ideal accompaniment to their musical numbers.
Performed against the backdrop of Mitch Massaro's colorful and expressive scenic design and featuring the inspired costume design of Patricia Taber and the inventive lighting of Scott Leathers, the bouncy musical offers its audiences any number of wonders to hold their attention and to inspire them to further flights of fancy along the way.
When Farmer Brown's smart and spirited cows (played with zest and verve by Rona Carter and Vanessa Callahan) and hen (the winsome, if outspoken, Amanda Card-McCoy)-given the ample support of a wily duck (played by the wonderful Peter Vann) who narrates the onstage action with sharp and incisive wit-happen upon an old typewriter in a box of junk that includes "an eye-sucking rainbow trout," boxing gloves, rusty ice skates and a Cat-in-the-Hat doll, you instantly know they are on the right track. And, thanks to a box full of discarded books, that include Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and George Orwell's Animal Farm, the animals' newfound political fervor leads them to go on strike.
In other words: "No electric blankets, no milk!" With solidarity and elan (thanks, in large part, to Rona Carter's nifty choreography), the animals make their concerns and complaints known to Farmer Brown, leaving him daily typewritten messages stating their case. When he realizes that only through compromise will things get back to normal on his enchanted acreage, Farmer Brown offers up the only solution that will work. As a result, the spirit of goodwill, camaraderie and joie de vivre return to the bucolic farmyard, which now includes a diving board for one clever (and we daresay lucky) duck.
Copeland's focused direction ensures the story is told briskly, with the play's action never slowing down (even if it's bedtime in the barn) while keeping the young audiences involved and engaged. Cleverly presented-the show begins with a well-produced newsreel that looks as if it's straight out of 1930s cinema-and employing all manner of modern technical wizardry to tell the story, Click Clack Moo-Cows That Type represent yet another shining example of what makes Nashville Children's Theatre such a treasure. The company consistently presents some of the best theatre local audiences will ever enjoy and never for an instant will you ever feel talked down to…whatever your age may be.
- Click Clack Moo-Cows That Type. Text by Dorreen Cronin, illustrations by Betsy Lewin. Originally published by Simon & Schuester. Used with permission of Pippin Properties Inc. Adapted by James E. Grote. Music by George Howe. Lyrics by George Howe and James E. Grote. Directed by Scot Copeland. Choreography by Rona Carter. Presented by Nashville Children's Theatre. Through May 13. For details, go to www.nashvillechildrenstheatre.org; or call (615) 254-9103.