Theater Review: “The Hundred Dresses” at NCT

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The 2017-18 season opener at Nashville Children's Theatre carries a powerful message that resonates with all ages.

The Hundred Dresses (Sept. 14 – Oct. 1; All ages)
Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT)
25 Middleton St., Nashville
615-252-4675 • nashvillect.org
Remaining Showtimes: Sept. 23-24 at 2 p.m.; Sept. 27 at 1 p.m.; Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 youth

NCT celebrates the opening of its 2017-18 season under the leadership of new Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. If Nolan’s first production at NCT is an indicator, families in the Nashville community have a lot to look forward to in the coming months and years under his direction.

Nolan’s first impressive accomplishment is noticeable before walking into the theater. It comes by way of the fact that PLAYBILL — the monthly U.S. magazine for savvy theater enthusiasts — is now publishing NCT’s program. It’s a fantastic stroke that brings NCT up to a whole new level of sophistication.

In addition, the audience gets to see new faces on the NCT stage. It’s wonderful to experience fresh talent from Nashville’s large acting community. This season opener certainly raises the bar at NCT giving young audiences a high-caliber experience that is sure to ignite a deeper passion in kids who have interest in the theatrical arts.

A STORY THAT RESONATES

Nolan dubs the new season’s theme “Everyone Has a Story.” The first of the season’s offerings is a powerful story that resonates with kids of all ages. The Hundred Dresses is based on Eleanor Estes’ 1944 Newbery-winning children’s book of the same name. On a side note, the book has never been out of print. That’s probably due to the fact that The Hundred Dresses is a timeless, compelling story that relates to everyone. It resonates as loudly today as it did 73 years ago.

Wanda Petronski (Kristin McCalley) is the new girl in Mr. Mason’s class. The Polish girl quickly becomes the object of ridicule over her funny sounding last name and the fact that she wears the same faded blue dress every day. Her classmates never bother to really get to know her and discover her unique abilities until its too late to make things right with her.

McCalley expertly portrays Wanda, striking a chord in every audience member who’s ever been picked on — and who hasn’t? One of her character’s lines speaks the truth to what’s often the case in our human existence: it’s easier to make things up about people than taking the time to get to know them and discover the truth.

Kristin McCalley as Wanda and Taylor Kelly as Tommy Allen in the NCT production of “The Hundred Dresses.”

The dynamics among Wanda’s classmates are too often typical as well. There’s Peggy (Catherine Birdsong) the lead instigator and bully who  taunts and rejects Wanda and coerces her friends to do the same. Tommy (Taylor Kelly) and Maddie (Tamiko Robinson Steele) follow Peggy’s lead when she’s around. However, they have a few instances where they see a different side of Wanda and that there’s more to her than meets the eye. Yet, they do nothing when Peggy pipes up, and the uneasiness and inner turmoil that builds sparks a lot of feelings among the audience.

What’s beautiful about this NCT production is experiencing the emotional arc of each of the characters collectively from the audience perspective. Anyone who’s been bullied will relate to the awfulness of what it’s like to be rejected because of superficial reasons like your appearance, how you talk, what you wear, where you live or your economic status. 

When Maddie seeks to make amends to Wanda and discovers the secret of Wanda’s hundred dresses and a hidden talent, she realizes the downfall of her own original perception and contempt prior to investigation. The good that comes from it is her decision to never stand by and say nothing again, a powerful lesson for all ages.

This NCT production sends a stronger message in today’s anti-bullying movement than most programs that exist in school systems. It certainly resonated with the young audience. After all, who can argue with the thunderous applause of a packed house full of kids?!

UPCOMING NCT SHOWS

Mark your calendars for the remainder of NCT’s 2017-2018 season!

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS
Oct. 26 – Dec. 3, 2017

CINDERELLA
Dec. 14 – 21, 2017

THE SNOWY DAY & OTHER STORIES BY EZRA JACK KEATS
Jan. 18 – Feb. 11, 2018

MOCKINGBIRD
March 1 – 18, 2018

DRAGONS LOVE TACOS
April 12 – May 13, 2018

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Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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