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A CurtainUp Review
Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical
This isn't as easy as it sounds, as you will learn from the adorable gang in this show, who are actually young adults. In the opening number we meet seven-year-old Strawberry (24-year-old Hayley Podschun), and her school-mates, who look like they have been recruited from every corner of the planet.
The ensemble belts out a spirited welcome to the audience, and then Strawberry soars into her first song, "Look at Me."
Although the show is pegged as a "freckleful of laughs" Strawberry's first solo will simply make you melt. Not only does it capture the gawky self-consciousness of a young girl, it is a paean to anyone who has ever looked in the mirror and bemoaned what they see. No, you don't need freckles to identify with the show's protagonist. You just need to remember what being an ordinary kid feels like.
We first meet seven-year-old Strawberry in the School Yard being teased by her school-mates about her bright red hair and freckles. This marks the beginning of Strawberry's journey of self-discovery. We follow her funny attempts to scrub away, bleach out, put make-up over her freckles —, and finally hide behind a ski mask. In the course of the show's 70 minutes she slowly (and yes, predictably) arrives at self-acceptance through the help of her mother (Linda Gabler) and the gang.
Gary Kupper's music and lyrics range from wistful, to sassy, to buoyantly bright. From the opening ensemble number to the "Happily Ever After" finale we get a kaleidoscope of colorful, peppy songs that deals with the realities of growing up, making friends, and gaining a healthy outlook on life.
Choreographer Gayle Pennington Crutchfield has created some wonderful dance routines for the company and some amazing solos for Strawberry and Ballet Girl (Jessica Bishop). Buddy Crutchfield directs with a light hand, avoiding facile clichés, and infuses each scene with high-energy and infectious warmth.
Hayley Podschun, as Strawberry sings, dances, and acts quite effortlessly. Her personal charm and the warmth makes for a close engagement with the audience. Her performance is varied enough to make her shift from a rather forlorn little girl who hates her freckles and red hai to a not-so-gawky girl who accepts herself, freckles and all. Another star turn is finessed by Jessica Bishop as Ballet Girl. Not only does she execute her pirouettes with grace, but she acts her supporting role with the confidence of a principal actor. All of the cast, in fact, exude talent and fine stage instincts.
At its best, Freckleface Strawberry succeeds by gently nudging its young audience to realize that beauty lies not in the mirror, but in the human heart. It may not be an especially original idea but thanks to the cast's sincerity it works.
There's a delightful epilogue that adults will enjoy and kids (at least, the older ones) will appreciate. I refuse to be a spoiler by disclosing more, but you're sure to go away believing that Strawberry and her gang have a bright future ahead.
Let's just call Freckleface Strawberry a tasteful, upbeat new family musical. Actress-author Julianne Moore (who was herself a freckle-faced kid — and look what happened to her!) and the creative team for this production have whipped up a delightful confection that drives home some old-fashioned values and truths. And whether you have freckles or not, you are bound to fall in love with this freckle face heroine and ensemble. Judging from the smile of the eight-year-old boy who was my companion, Freckleface Strawberry and the gang won him over.