Adventure and delight fill the air as children and parents prepare for a performance of Wake Up, Brother Bear at Imagination Stage. Imagination’s latest production for very young audiences (children aged 1 to 5) features two child-friendly characters, a brother and sister bear, who are just waking up after a long winter’s nap. At the beginning of the show’s brief 40-minute run, Sister Bear (Lily Burka) is awake while a sleeping Brother Bear (Tre’Mon Mills) does not want to get up. Janet Stanford and Kathryn Chase Bryer’s script invites audience members both young and old to enjoy the promise of spring with the waking bears. Bryer, Imagination Stage’s longtime associate artistic director, directs the show, which plays out on a mostly bare stage designed by Milagros Ponce De Leon that allows us all to be engulfed by the simplicity of enthusiasm.
To encourage interactivity, audience members are invited to sit in a circle on the stage, with parents seated behind the children. The production equips the children to be a part of this short, interactive production as the bears chase butterflies and search for honey.
Burka’s Sister bear leads most of the show’s action. Of the two bears, she is the only one who speaks, and she carries the show with a warm presence and sensibility that allows her to address the inevitable moments when the circle’s attention begins to wane, usually when the children aren’t being invited to participate in the show. Burka is fully equipped emotionally (and with props) to snap the young audience’s attention back to what’s happening on the stage.
Brother Bear conveys his emotions through pantomime, and Mills gives the character expressiveness and clarity while expressing hunger, excitement at seeing fish, and amazement at the stars.
Besides a multifunctional, magical tree on the unfurnished stage, there are plenty of imaginative improvisational props to keep the tots engaged. Ryan Muha, who helps physically move the props on and off stage, takes us through the changing of the seasons as he facilitates the particular thrill each season brings. The children are always invited to participate.
Multi-instrumentalist Moira Todd provides the show’s background music. With instruments ranging from guitar to kazoo, she gives voice to the birds, bees, raindrops, water, and everything else in between. The bears, costumed by Frank Labowitz, are lovable, huggable large embodiments of stuffed animals. Brother Bear even carries a small stuffed bear toy to help him communicate.
Keeping a child entertained is a crafty skill. To illuminate their world while doing so with worthwhile information is a gift. Playwrights Stanford and Bryer have crafted a clever children’s show with Wake Up, Brother Bear to entertain and engage children in the wonders of our world that we adults can all sometimes forget. For, as Brother and Sister Bear remind us, it is to love, share, and help each other that truly makes the world go round with fulfillment.
Running Time: 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Wake Up, Brother Bear plays through April 8, 2023, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, MD. Purchase tickets ($16.50 for both children and adults) online.
Best for ages 1 to 5.
COVID Safety: Audience members are strongly encouraged to wear masks while in Imagination Stage theaters. Masks are not required. The venue’s complete Health and Safety Protocols are here.
Wake Up, Brother Bear
By Janet Stanford and Kathryn Chase Bryer
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani
Stage Manager: Olivia Viola