This holiday season, Seattle Children’s Theatre brings much-loved picture book Corduroy to life under the enthusiastic direction of Kathryn Van Meter. Expanding on the original story by Don Freeman, Barry Kornhauser’s warmhearted adaptation will delight younger attendees and coax forth the child within older ones.
The play begins on an empty stage glowing a rich blue. Combining the talents of scenic designer Tony Bend and lighting designer L.B. Morse, faint concentric circles painted on the walls and floor give the stage the appearance of a whimsical tunnel, drawing the eyes of audience towards its softly glowing orange center. First to enter are two clowns, played by teen actors, who perform an animated routine of physical comedy. The clowns then appear to use the force of their minds to drag on set pieces, slowly assembling a department store. Right from the start, the goofy and whimsical sound effects coupled with the pair’s exaggerated body movements give the show a playful and cartoonish feel.
The story follows Corduroy, a stuffed bear earnestly played by Chip Sherman, as he embarks from the toy department on a store-wide quest to find a button that has fallen off his overalls. Meanwhile, a little girl named Lisa does her best to convince her mother she is responsible enough to earn an advance on her allowance so she can bring Corduroy home. Over the course of the story Corduroy and Lisa each have many mishaps—including spilled garbage, broken displays, and attacks by a runaway vacuum cleaner—but eventually, they come together for a happy ending.
Nine-year-old Olivia Frieson beautifully plays the character of the stubborn Lisa resolved to find the friend she lacks at school within Corduroy. Midway through the first act, her mother delivers the advice, “You need to learn that we have to work hard and smart to get the things we want.” And though Lisa’s attempts to help all fail, her mother recognizes her sincere intent. Giving Lisa the money, she tells her that she appreciates her efforts and knows that no one would love Corduroy more.
As a story targeted mainly towards young children, Corduroy teaches important lessons about perseverance and friendship in a way that is easily absorbable and entertaining. Steadfast determination is prevalent throughout the production. Corduroy shows it in his tireless pursuit of his button through the various departments, and Lisa makes valiant efforts to complete her chores. Even Rob Burgess’s humorously bumbling Night Watchman persistently tracks Corduroy up and down the store, swearing to catch whoever is responsible for the befuddling mess.
Enhancing the production were various nods and salutes to the story’s original medium. Crosshatched shadows painted on every set piece give the stage the appearance of a drawing, evoking the book’s illustrations. The bright, solid colors and magnified body language accentuate this connection. Even the simple costumes of Corduroy and the clowns give them an artificial, toy-like feel, reminiscent of Freeman’s straightforward designs.
Corduroy functions as both an engaging story for young children and a happy recollection for teens and adults who loved the book growing up. As it chronicles Lisa’s and Corduroy’s journey, the play offers a simple story of dedication, determination, and the universal theme that finding friendship is worth every ounce of the effort.
Corduroy runs at Seattle Children's Theatre November 22-December 29, 2019. See HERE for event information.