Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s resident family theater is closing out its sixth season with a "blast from the past" and plans to go forward on a potential move to the historic, and long-since silent, Lakewood Theater as early as next summer.
Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater is staging Rudyard Kipling’s seafaring classic "Captains Courageous," a show that was a hit in the middle of the last century but has largely been ignored by modern audiences. Set in 1928, the story centers on a millionaire's pampered son, Harvey Cheyne, Jr., who falls off an ocean liner and is rescued by a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel (played by South Sound favorite Michael O’Hara). The boy must then spend the entire season at sea aboard a New England fishing schooner – and in the company of the burly, robust crew of the We’re Here.
Put to work in a pre-modern world of ropes, jibs, booms and fishing lines, the boy rebels and is soon branded a "Jonah" and blamed for the ship’s bad luck. But with the help of Manuel, he wins over the crew and eventually learns the value of hard work, spirit, friendship and the true riches of life. The schooner returns to port, and Harvey wires his parents, who rush to reunite with their son. The bratty boy they remember has since been transformed by his seafaring adventures into an industrious, serious and considerate young man. All things end well, and with a song, by the time the final curtain falls.
The play was not only a must-read in its day but was also made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1937 that starred Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore (the great-uncle of actress Drew Barrymore) and Mickey Rooney.
Directed by TMP’s Maria Valenzuela, this new musical adaptation by Patrick Cook and Frederick Freyer features a full complement of TMP’s male actors singing their way across the ocean to The Grand Banks, the Atlantic’s ultimate fishing ground. Despite the show’s proven pedigree, Valenzuela admits that staging it is a bit of a gamble because it does not have the immediate name recognition of more modern works. But that was sort of the point.
TCMT stages three shows a year that roughly follow the idea that one show will be based on a young children’s book, one will be a classic and one will be for older children. This season’s other productions were "Pinkalicious" and "Willy Wonka," for example. Last year offered “A Year With Frog and Toad,” “Seussical, The Musical” and “Miss Nelson is Missing.” The theater’s mission is to stage shows that parents can bring their children to see as a way to introduce them to live theater and the etiquette that goes along with it. Pre-show instructions include announcements, for example, of when the lights will go out and when there will be an intermission.
“That way the children already know the process,” Valenzuela said. “It trains the parents about taking their kids to the theater.”
The theater faces some struggle in that mission since many audiences wrongly think the shows contain only children instead of thinking the plays are for children. “Captains Courageous” only has two children in its 15-member cast. Overcoming that perception will simply take time.
The other ongoing issue is that while the shows are “family friendly,” not all shows are appropriate for toddlers because of their length or material.
“Some things are not appropriate for all ages,” Valenzuela said.
Even family versions of “South Pacific” or “Sound of Music,” for example, might be too heavy for young viewers since they contain themes of racism and violence. TCMT has not staged either show thus far, however.
Beyond those challenges, the theater continues to grow and more growth is on the horizon. TMP is moving forward with plans to renovate and lease the Lakewood Theater in the Colonial Center in time for its summer show next year. The move would allow for renovations at its current stage at the Narrows Theater on Tacoma's 6th Avenue and then run the Lakewood Theater as a second venue as well as the home stage for the children’s theater productions.
“Captains Courageous” runs for only six performances, on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. April 14- 22. Performances take place at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 6th Ave. All seating is reserved, so advance purchase is strongly recommended. Single ticket prices range from $12 to $17. A group rate of $10 per ticket is available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets or more information, visit www.tmp.org or call the box office at (253) 565-6867.