If you were a kid after the 70s, it’s likely you read Miss Nelson is Missing in school. Theatre of Youth looks to capitalize on this name recognition with their new production, which opened January 25th and runs through February 9th. With an incredible set designed by Kenneth Shaw and a cast of TOY regulars, the Meg Quinn helmed production makes the very best of an uncharacteristically weak adaptation, to the delight of the non-theater critics in the audience.
TOY is well-established as Buffalo’s only theater for young audiences, and the work is always top-notch. Miss Nelson is Missing is no exception. TOY newcomer Lily Jones handles the dual roles of Miss Nelson and Miss Viola Swamp, the Jekyll/Hyde of classroom 207 with as much dichotomy as she can provide and a voice to bring down the rafters. As the story’s narrator, a wizened janitor, Jacob Albarella gives us a hilarious turn. Those familiar with Albarella know his versatility knows no bounds, and he makes exceptional use of that versatility playing supplemental roles as the school’s principal Mr. Blandsworth (complete with some unbelievable singing by Albarella) and the forgetful Detective McSmogg (complete with a hysterical accent by Albarella). And as the aforementioned class in 207, Mike Benoit, Daniel Torres, Sabrina Kahwaty, and Christine Seshie start the show with a strong a capella alma mater and carry the show with well-choreographed hijinks throughout.
The only thing potentially harmful to the TOY production was the material. Kids might not notice just how bad the lyrics that accompany the relatively good music are, but it’s jarring enough to the adult ear that it had to be mentioned. I’d like to make two things clear: 1) I’m not here to criticize the lyrics to a children’s musical, but 2) a lesser director/organization might have some trouble. In steps Quinn and an adept cast of performers, and voila, I’m almost convinced! Jones is victim to bad writing the most, and she makes the best of what she’s given with a confidence that is not easy to come by. And I know I mentioned it in the beginning of the review, but Shaw’s set is truly magnificent. His work at TOY frequently goes underappreciated, but his inventiveness and ingenuity frequently better the productions at TOY, and Miss Nelson is Missing is no exception.
Despite the adaptation’s weaknesses, the terrific cast (and crew…I see you Chester Popiolkowski, Brittany Wysocki, and Gabe Gutierrez) make for an enjoyable production of Miss Nelson is Missing that kids and nostalgic adults like me will be happy they saw.
Run time 1 hour, no intermission
‘Miss Nelson is Missing’ runs until February 9, 2019. For more information, click here.