If we can all just embrace whatever we struggle with, maybe it won’t be such a struggle after all. This is a key message of Adventure Theatre MTC’s newest show, Fantastagirl and the Math Monster, directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick with musical direction from Ben Lurye. With lyrics and book by Tori Boutin and lyrics and music by Madeline Belknap, this is a bold and bright musical, aimed at the elementary school set but with some advice that benefits anyone willing to take it. Ariana Caldwell as Fantastagirl and Candice Shedd-Thompson as the Math Monster shine brilliantly, as a confident girl who is afraid of math (and failure) and the fear itself, which is personified, at the beginning of the musical, as a tiny puppet monster.
Immediately, the dazzling set and groovy and psychedelic costumes set the tone for the show. The dialogue is snappy and full of rich, challenging vocabulary. The show feels both vintage (a mix of ’80s neon and shiny lamé) and modern (Fantastagirl has two fabulous moms, played by Carolyn Kashner and Ayesha Gowie, and one of her friends uses gender-neutral pronouns). Tori Boutin, who wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics with Madeline Belknap, certainly seems to know their audience; there’s a poop joke within the first seven minutes that had the children cracking up.
The second song, “Free of Math,” showcases Caldwell’s gorgeous and pleasing vocal talent. Fantastagirl has some highly relatable math anxiety, which shows up as the Math Monster. Hilariously portrayed by Shedd-Thompson, this “monster” only wants to be Fantastagirl’s helpful sidekick, and you’ll find yourself rooting for this unlikely hero. She begins to prove to Fantastagirl how useful math can be in “Fraction Action,” which also features the comical duo Andrew Quilpa and Fabiola Da Silva as Finn and Quinn, the twins who have trouble getting along and working together.
As the musical progresses, we are treated to a series of real-world problems that match with the topics on Fantastagirl’s upcoming math assessment. In another number, featuring the sassy Miranda Pepin as Busy Bea, it’s geometric shapes. In “Serum Drop Bop,” a smooth and funky number, Math Monster shows how skip counting can help Fantastagirl’s moms make their scientific plant experiment grow effectively. It’s definitely a bop, and don’t miss a clever special effect that elicited gleeful gasps from the audience!
Shedd-Thompson’s standout Math Monster transforms from a small puppet to a bigger one, and then the actress herself, who we initially see as the “puppeteer,” becomes the full-size Math Monster. Shedd-Tompson’s comedic prowess is impeccable, and she had the audience laughing with a single look several times throughout the musical.
In “Wanna Be Fantastic,” it’s become clear that math and English can be the perfect pair, and liking one doesn’t mean not liking or being able to do the other, contrary to what many of us were told and believed as kids ourselves. The antagonist of the musical, Calculating Sam, also provides comic relief throughout the show. Joshua Street is endearing as the lovable-despite-himself foe to Fantasagirl.
One of the musical’s core messages, that one doesn’t have to do it without help in order to be considered successful or great, is conveyed beautifully in “Greater Than.” Adults and children alike will relate to the pressure we feel to be perfect, and how paralyzing the fear of failure can be. Fantastagirl begins to learn that accepting support is not only acceptable but perhaps a key to the success she seeks.
The musical’s peppy final number, “My Monster and Me,” brings home this idea that we are all struggling or challenged by something, whether it is organization, risk-taking, using moderation, working with others, or, of course, math, but if we can learn to face the fear (our monsters) and “befriend” them, we will ultimately improve.
For parents considering this lively musical, keep in mind that its running time is 60 minutes with no intermission. I think children ages 6 and up will enjoy it most.
Running Time: 60 minutes, no intermission.
Fantastagirl and the Math Monster plays through August 21, 2022, at Adventure Theatre MTC – 7300 MacArthur Blvd in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets ($25), call the box office at (301) 634-2270, or purchase them online.
COVID Safety: Adventure Theatre requires everyone over the age of two years old attending its shows to wear a mask and remain masked while in our facility. A proof of vaccination will be required for admission for all individuals ages 12 and up. Adventure Theatre’s compete Covid Protocols are here.
Fantastagirl and the Math Monster
Book & Lyrics by Tori Boutin
Music & Lyrics by Madeline Belknap
Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick
Dramaturg and Literary Management by Divinia Shorter; Production Stage Management by Michelle Lynch; Costume Design by Paris Francesca Lighting Design by Marianne Meadows; Scenic Design by Grace Trudeau, Properties and Puppet Design by Andrea “Dre” Moore; Projection Design by Hailey LaRoe; Sound Design by Jordan Friend; Choreography by Sierra Young.