THEATER REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
At least once in every season Olympia Family Theater presents a serious drama in lieu of their usual fare of upbeat children’s stories told with song and dance. This season’s drama is Number the Stars, based on the Newbery Award-winning book by Lois Lowry, adapted by Dr. Douglas W. Larche and directed by Samantha Chandler.
It is 1943. Nazi Germany is overrunning Europe and sending Jews to concentration camps for forced labor or death. In Copenhagen, the Jewish Rosen family – (Jeff Hallum as Mr. Rosen), his wife, Sophie (Nicole Balducci-Pate) and their young daughter Ellen (Olivia Burns) – live next door to the non-Jew Johansen family – the teenage daughter, Annemarie (Hattie Hummel-Church), her little sister Kirstie (Izumi Huff), and their parents, Inge (Emily Donkin Jones) and Papa Johansen (Mike Gregory, who also plays a Nazi soldier).
The three girls are the best of friends. In order to save the Rosens from the Nazis, the Johansens help them escape at night to a boat bound for Sweden. They get them safely away only to discover that an important small package the Rosens need to complete their escape has been accidently left behind, and Annemarie volunteers to make the dangerous night journey alone.
Number the Stars is a story of outstanding courage, devotion and love.
Jordanna Averett’s scenic design is a storybook illustration of the city of Copenhagen on a grand scale beautifully painted by scenic artist Becky Scott. The story is simply told with a buildup of happy family scenes of the girls playing together and the Johansen family spending their evenings acting out plays at home before the danger necessitates the suspenseful escape scene.
The cast consists of five youth actors and nine adults. A few of the young actors as well as Jones in the role of Mrs. Johansen appeared not quite comfortable in their roles opening night, but overall the cast does a fine job. Gregory is convincingly playful and loving as the father to Annemarie and Kirstie and equally ferocious as a Nazi soldier. Ben Churchwell turns in an excellent job in the dual roles of the Johansen’s older son, Peter, and as a German soldier. In a small but important appearance, Tom Lockhart displays powerful stage presence in an unnamed role (Man with Beard), and Chuck Meares is delightful as Uncle Henrik.
Number the Stars is a touching and gripping play that flies by in 80 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission, appropriate for ages 6 and older.
Number the Stars
7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 16
Olympia Family Theater, 612 4th Ave E • Olympia
$15 – $20