Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: A Lovable Buffalo

Being proud of who you are is something very prevalent today. No matter where you come from, identity is what defines you. In The Calico Buffalo, a musical adaptation of the same name, EJ Stapleton and Peter Stopschinski tell us to be proud and loud and don't hide in the most glorious fashion.
In this family friendly musical, young buffalo Bora-Boh is born looking like a calico cat due to his parentage. His parents try to hide the truth as the rest of the Buffaloes may not accept his look. As Bora-Boh grows up and learns the truth, he meets Bittle, a toad, who just like him, isn't like the rest. When Thorn, Bora-Boh's jealous uncle catches wind of his true appearance, he vows to share the truth allowing him chief. As his plan backfires, family comes together defining the power of love. The Calico Buffalo is an adorable story. The beloved book is destined for the stage. Stopschinski and Stapleton's score is fun and catchy and perhaps a bit reminiscent of Stephen Schwartz. “Day of All Days”, the opening number was a wonderful kickoff to the show. While none of the other numbers quite reached “Day of All Days”, the numbers were catchy, fun, and kid friendly. They incorporated the style of the region in a whimsical way. The morality that Stapleton imposes is accessible for all audiences. It's not overly obvious or simply subliminal. Stapleton easily offers a strong story that gets audiences of all ages engaged. While the true test of success is how an audience of children react, it was quite something to watch an audience of adults respond. In the climatic moment with Sih-Kuk and the wolves, it was like watching everyone in the room relive the mother moment from “Bambi.” Gasps a-plenty!
photo by Shira Friedman
It’s important to use your imagination in this kind of world but director Craig J. George and his design team made it even easier. The stagecraft that George employed was extraordinarily beautiful. The set by Robert Mark Morgan married nature with imagination. The bridge was simple yet lovely. The trees, which were clearly repurposed umbrellas, allowed the an element of fun into the buffalos’ world. The costumes by Claire Aquila were innovative and ingenious. Aquila too married imagination with everyday items. From camper hats to suit jackets, Aquila’s additions made the characters have brilliant personalities. While her looks had shades of Tarzan in it, they still were unique to this production. Giving humans the ability to move like animals is integral. Choreographer Billy Sprague Jr. found a way to make the buffalo the most agile mammal on the plains. Sprague Jr. mix of styles blended harmoniously. From flashy Broadway style moves to hoof pounding escapades, Sprague Jr.’s numbers were one of the many highlights of the production. As far as George’s staging goes, he made a bold choice that paid off astronomically. George played up the idea of storytelling by keeping his ensemble present and transforming from animal to animal on the sides of the stage. The modest choice added an exorbitant amount of animation but also reminded us all, that in the end, it’s all pretend.
The entire ensemble did an incredible job transforming, finding their inner beast. As the titular character, Zachary Infante was nothing short of adorable. Infante found Bora-Boh with ease, transforming into what is destined to be a fan favorite character. As his bff, Brooke Shapiro’s Bittle was high-octane and a bouncing ball of energy. And only in a kids show is that allowed. As The Chief and Willa-Mah, Rhys Gilyeat and Rachel Rhodes-Devey had great chemistry, sounding quite heavenly together. Gilyeat, a standout dancer as well, appeared to be having the most fun off anyone on stage. As scene stealing Thorn, Max Wilcox adopted characteristics from an assortment of kid-friendly villains, combined them all together, and created an amusing bad buffalo that was reminiscent of JCS’ Herod. You certainly knew he was up to no good but you couldn’t help but want to see more. Rachel Coloff as Sih-Kuk was sturdy as the veteran of the bunch. Coloff earned the boisterous reaction as she is truly one of the most loveable actors on stage.
Make no mistake, The Calico Buffalo’s intended demographic is children. But this is certainly a musical for families. And adults. With an incomparable vision and a vibrant story, The Calico Buffalo is on its way to a long and prosperous theatrical life. Just ask the ancients, I bet they’d agree.