‘Miss Nelson is Missing’ at Adventure Theatre MTC by Julia L. Exline

Adventure Theatre MTC presents a musical version of Miss Nelson is Missing, based on the beloved children’s books by Harry Allard and directed by Jennifer Nelson, with Music Direction and Orchestration by William Yanesh. With Book, Music, and Lyrics by Joan Cushing, the rambunctious Room 207 is brought to the stage.

Cast of 'Miss Nelson is Missing': Jessica Lauren Ball, Matt Dewberry, Sean McComas, Rachel Viele, Calvin McCullough, and Gracie Jones. Photo courtesy of Adventure Theatre MTC.
Cast of ‘Miss Nelson is Missing’: Jessica Lauren Ball, Matt Dewberry, Sean McComas, Rachel Viele, Calvin McCullough, and Sherry Berg. Photo by Bruce Douglas.

I’ve come to expect thrilling sets when I visit Adventure Theatre MTC, and they have yet to disappoint me. Set and Projections Designer Ruth Marie Tenorio covers not just the stage, but the entire space itself, with chalkboard material. Children in the audience are given special wall space in which they are encouraged to draw whatever they please with chalk hanging from string, and this artistic interaction with the show is very clever. Details of the classroom are drawn onstage, including bookshelves, oversized letters and numbers, and other scribblings. Lit-up model planets and paper airplanes are suspended from the ceiling, and various set pieces are wheeled on and offstage throughout the production.

Lighting by Brittany Shemuga and Sound by Kenny Neal work together to enhance the atmosphere, utilizing ominous thunder and lightning effects that introduce the frightening character of Miss Viola Swamp. Costume Designer Aryna Petrashenko uses bold, colorful prints and patterns for the students – sweet pastels for the kind Miss Nelson, and harsh, gothic tones for the nasty Viola Swamp.

Things are not going very well in room 207 of Horace B. Smedley Elementary School. The students, Sean McComas (Adam), Rachel Viele (Allison), Calvin McCullough (Gregory), and Sherry Berg  (Cheryl), terrorize their poor teacher Miss Nelson (Jessica Lauren Ball) on a daily basis. Miss Nelson sings a song called “The Worst Kids of All,” about how as individuals the children are all good kids, but for some reason when they are put together they dissolve into a nightmare of fidgeting bodies and flying spitballs. The kind, well-meaning Miss Nelson simply cannot control this particular brood

One day, a mysterious, domineering substitute named Miss Viola Swamp (also Jessica Lauren Ball) swoops in and overtakes the class, sharply smacking her ruler against every surface possible and making the students tremble in their seats. She is mean, strict, and would make a drill-sergeant seem laughably passive. The terrified children are whipped into shape in no time, but they miss their teacher. Together, they try a variety of things in hopes of finding their missing teacher, even hiring a bumbling, inept private investigator (played by the hilarious Matt Dewberry). Will Miss Nelson ever return?

Bruce Douglas (From left) Calvin McCullough, Rachel Viele, Sean McComas, and Sherry Berg in 'Miss Nelson is Missing.' Photo by Bruce Douglas.
(From left) Calvin McCullough, Rachel Viele, Sean McComas, and Sherry Berg in ‘Miss Nelson is Missing.’ Photo by Bruce Douglas.

The actors are all great, showing high energy and enthusiasm in their respective roles and working off each other well. Calvin McCullough provides some great slapstick with his character Gregory, and Sherry Berg is adorable as a peppy girl who loves cuddling her stuffed panda (that is, until Miss Swamp gets her foot on it!). I also enjoyed the creative choreography by Michael J. Bobbitt, who incorporated set pieces and props (like desks and wastepaper baskets) into the dance moves. The actors also took opportunities to have “inside” jokes with the adults in the audience by referencing local Maryland cities, highways, and more whenever possible.Although I found the score unmemorable, the songs were sung beautifully by the vocally talented cast.

If you are a fan of the Miss Nelson books, then Adventure Theatre MTC’s production will be a fun experience for both children and parents. Take your kids and grandkids! They’ll have a great time!

Running Time: 55 minutes, without an intermission.

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Miss Nelson is Missing plays through March 9, 2014 at Adventure Theatre MTC – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo Park, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.

Magic Time! ‘Miss Nelson is Missing’ by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.


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