Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Does anyone remember those fearful days of elementary school when the teacher seemed to loom over your life, struck fear in your heart over the smallest thing and rejected every reasonable request with a resounding “NO!”?
Well, those days returned Saturday as a full house greeted the opening of Flint Youth Theatre’s amazing musical premiere, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On. Based on the book by Albert Cullum, FYT’s Artistic Director Michael Lluberes wrote both the script and lyrics in collaboration with Jared M. Dembowski who composed the music. What emerges here is 90 minutes of song, skit, comedy and incredibly special youthful performances.
Several aspects make this special, not the least of which is the fact that all nine of the performers are youngsters in either elementary or middle school, and seven of them are in their first show ever with FYT. They perform 21 songs, one after the other, with no less than eight solos, maybe more. Each song points up a moment in the school day beginning with the transition from carefree summer to September and the return to rules that define “Good Boys and Good Girls”.
With every personality represented, each character is unique. As Bobby, Dalton Hartwell sets the tone with his hysterical “Normal” wherein he details how difficult it is for him to just sit still and write. More issues around writing time emerge from Allie MacDonald as Amy. In a strong and lovely voice she sings about the pressures of being considered the smartest with “In The Very First Seat”. Meanwhile, the blackboard comes intriguingly to life as Aidan Allan Riggs (Nick) sings about penmanship in “ABC’s”.
Reading hour prompts a lovely ballad when Katie (Edith Pendell) sings about “The Sound of the Rain”. She puts the first real focus on the Geranium at the back of the classroom – Adrienne Robinson dressed in bright red, and clearly a living thing even if the teacher doesn’t think so.
As Jacob, Joshua Beauchamp finds himself bored with the assigned reading and makes up a story wherein he is a princess while he sings “Jacob’s Story” with wonderful gusto.
Gaby Bader is adorable with her multiple facial expressions and generally exasperated demeanor. She delivers a satirically delightful moment in math class with “You Talk Funny”. Not to be outdone, Joey Urgino (Matthew) cleverly fights with himself after being relegated to the corner where he examines the science of “Good Me/Bad Me”.
Tests bring pressure, but the worst stress might be not being noticed at all. Yasmine Searcy (Olivia) brings this issue plaintively to light with her sweetly sad rendition of “Invisible”.
Performed in the Elgood Theatre, the audience is on three sides of the action and that proximity affords a singular intimacy that can bring those long ago school days back for adults and will surely resonate at least in part with youngsters today.
Just as a side note, while we don’t believe that all teachers are as grouchy and uninvolved with their students these days, the feelings that can be dredged up by an uncaring person in authority are worth examining.
Lluberes, who also directed this effort, and music director David Lindsey both deserve congratulations for bringing this young and often inexperienced troupe to a remarkable level of performance art. They sing nearly the entire show, plus move set pieces, react to projected teacher silhouettes as if they are real, and respond to each other with terrific timing and concentration. The only issue that bothered us a bit was the volume of the piano accompaniment that too often overcame the non-amplified young voices.
Overall, this production is without a doubt a landmark for Flint Youth Theatre. It is impressive, entertaining, pleasing to look at and listen to and, above all, a real emotionally positive moment in time for nine special young people.
The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On continues through May 6. For more information and tickets please contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at www.theFYT.org