Some kids get to celebrate Christmas

‘Oh No! Granny’s got the Remote!’

Kids skip down the theater’s aisles, drop their teddy bears and backpacks, and head for the stage.

One girl calls out, “Am I in act two?” and another girl hunkers down in a front row seat exclaiming, “Yep, this is the best spot.”

On stage, the Christmas tree’s lights twinkle, and a group of adults and at least a dozen kids, get in place — ready for action.

“I want more kicks, more mirth and be more perky — you’re a bird,” says Director Penelope Haskew, reading her notes from last night’s rehearsal.

Then the music starts and for the next several hours, the cast merrily knocks out the jubilant songs, and extensively choreographed dance and fight scenes of “Oh No! Granny’s got the Remote!”

The show centers around “Granny,” who takes charge of the children during a family reunion. She uses her “magical” television remote to whisk them away to new worlds and teaches them lessons on how to be kind, to share and to be true to themselves.

The play, written by San Juan Island’s Penelope Haskew, comes to San Juan Community Theatre, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, 7 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m.

For the second year in a row, Haskew and Teddy Deane, the music director and composer, have teamed up to create a musical specifically for SJCT’s family theatre. After, last year’s “Stars Lore: A Mythological Musical,” which delighted crowds throughout its run, they thought they’d do it again.

Haskew wrote both plays with one major goal in mind — to get as many kids possible on stage, which they have achieved, both times, with casts of about 50 kids.

Running a show with that many kids — and 11 adults — can be challenging, but Haskew said, “It’s mind boggling how smooth it’s going.”

Haskew admits that rehearsals can get ridiculous with “kids climbing on walls and not focusing,” but once Deane starts the music everyone gets into character.

There are a variety of music styles in the play including “jump-swing,” “rock ‘n’ roll,” a Gilbert and Sullivan style “mini-operetta,” and original traditional-style holiday tunes.

“Teddy writes really fun stuff,” Haskew said. “The kids have a lot of fun with it.”

Deane is the perfect teammate.  He was the music director for a theater in Portland, Ore., for 10 years and he has written two full musicals, an operetta, a vaudeville show and television and radio themes. He estimates that he’s written more than 150 songs in his career, and some are getting a second life on internet sites like Youtube.

But before doing the music for last year’s “Stars Lore: A Mythological Musical,” he had taken a break from musical theatre compositions for about 20 years. Not that he was idle during that time — he was touring with his band and produced several albums of his own solo work.

But Deane said his music is nothing without a good story, and “Haskew has a really keen talent for that.”

Haskew’s inspiration to write a play for music theater comes from growing up on the East Coast with a family that often visited Broadway. As a youth there were two albums frequently turning on her record player — “Evita” and “The Wiz.” She said surely listening to those influenced her playwriting and there are some similar themes between Dorothy going to Oz and “Granny’s” grandkids traveling to other worlds to learn important life lessons.

As costumes, a five-piece band, a strobe light and smoke are added to the final rehearsals, Haskew said she likes to see the kids’ enthusiasm even if they get loud. What she finds most rewarding is seeing kids change throughout the process.

“It’s interesting to see new kids this year get more comfortable on stage and disappear into the characters,” Haskew said.

Tickets are adults —$15, students — $8, and RUSH — $5

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