Imagination Stage, the metro DC region’s largest professional theatre dedicated to young audiences, announces six shows for 2023/24–a “greatest hits” season celebrating 20 years in its beautiful theatre arts center in downtown Bethesda.
The international hit, The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (September 22- October 22), kicks it off, with one-quarter of its performances in Spanish and three-quarters in English. That show is best for ages 3-8. Next up are three for the elementary-age crowd, returning hits A Year with Frog and Toad (November 15-January 7), Cinderella: A Salsa Fairy Tale (February 14-April 7), and Miss Nelson is Missing! (June 20-August 10). For the youngest audiences, ages 1-4, the two beloved returning shows are Mouse on the Move (January 13 – February 11) and Inside Out (March 3-30).
Founding Artistic Director Janet Stanford–who has been at Imagination Stage since before the move to downtown Bethesda–chose these “timeless stories to speak to key milestones in youth development including imagining new possibilities, appreciating other cultures and traditions, and empathizing with others.” Managing Director Jason Najjoum says, “We can’t wait to introduce these wonderful shows to a new mini-generation of children. It has been very encouraging to see families returning to the theatre following the pandemic. So many of us all fell out of the habit, and we believe this ‘greatest hits’ season will keep bringing them back.”
The season opens with The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, which played to packed houses in 2019. It offers a chance for the younger ones to be in the 390-seat Lerner Theatre for a taste of what the bigger kids get. In the show, spectacular puppetry brings Eric Carle’s singular illustrations to life and provides a huge dose of theatre magic.
Next up, for the holiday season, is A Year with Frog and Toad, which broke all attendance records when it played at Imagination Stage in 2015. That show recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and was a Tony Award nominee in its Broadway run. Directing the show is Ashleigh King, a well-known choreographer in the region, who recently choreographed Imagination Stage’s summer 2023 production of Nate the Great.
Following that, is an Imagination Stage original commission, Cinderella: A Salsa Fairy Tale, which premiered at Imagination Stage’s White Flint location in the very early 2000s. The show will be directed by Nadia Guevara, an accomplished actor, director, and producer who is the 2022-2024 recipient of The Drama League Stage Directing Fellowship. The writing team, playwright Karen Zacarías and composer Deborah Wicks La Puma, collaborated on several Imagination Stage commissions together (Ferdinand the Bull, Looking for Roberto Clemente, and more) and then went on separately to create many acclaimed pieces. Zacarías’ plays include Native Gardens, The Book Club Play, and Just Like Us. Wicks La Puma has teamed up several times with Mo Willems, including on Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Elephant and Piggie’s We Are In a Play!, and Naked Mole Rats Get Dressed: The Rock Experience, for which Imagination Stage recently won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences.
Summer 2024 sees the return of Joan Cushing’s first commission from Imagination Stage: Miss Nelson is Missing! She was already a beloved fixture on the political comedy and cabaret scene with her character Mrs. Foggybottom when she created her first show for young audiences. Miss Nelson is Missing! became one of the most produced shows by theatres for young audiences around the nation. Cushing went on to write two other musicals for Imagination Stage, Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business and Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood.
Two multi-sensory, interactive productions in the intimate Reeve Studio Theatre are for the youngest audiences, ages 1-5. For the past decade, Imagination Stage has been a national leader in Theatre for the Very Young (TVY), and this season offers two favorites that bring little ones close to the stage and into the action: Mouse on the Move and Inside Out.
Discount ticket packages are now available for purchase. Packages are structured by age of children and by the number of shows the family wishes to see. The packages–called Bear Cub Mini Pack, Penguin Three-Pack, and Cool Cats Four-Pack–are available on Imagination Stage’s website or by calling the box office at 301-280-1660. Single tickets go on sale on August 15 for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show and A Year with Frog and Toad, and later for shows in 2024.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Created by Jonathan Rockefeller
Based on Eric Carle’s Books
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
September 22 – October 22
Best for ages 3-8
Using more than 70 beautiful, larger-than-life puppets and original music, this special event follows everyone’s favorite characters from four different Eric Carle books: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear;” “The Very Busy Spider;” “10 Little Rubber Ducks;” and, of course, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
A Year with Frog and Toad
Based on the books by Arnold Lobel
Book and lyrics by Willie Reale
Music by Robert Reale
Directed by Ashleigh King
November 15 – January 7
Best for ages 4+
In this hit Broadway musical, two best friends with opposite personalities wake up from hibernation and enjoy hilarious adventures through four fun-filled seasons, culminating in their own special Christmas moment. Light-hearted, with a sprinkle of nostalgia, this show is inspired by the acclaimed children’s books. In its original Broadway run, it was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Mouse on the Move
Written and Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Janet Stanford
Music by Tim Guillot
January 13 – February 11
Two adventurous mice are ready to explore the world beyond their tiny mouse-hole. They decide to go to the moon, since it is cat-free and made entirely of delicious cheese, or so they’ve heard. In this multi-sensory experience, children receive a small suitcase of props with which they help the actors tell the story.
Cinderella: A Salsa Fairy Tale
Book and lyrics by Karen Zacarías
Music by Deborah Wicks La Puma
Directed by Nadia Guevara
February 15 – April 5
Best for ages 5+
What will happen to Cinderella at the ball … game? That’s the surprising question in this contemporary Latin-American Cinderella musical that weaves subtle lessons on empathy, sportsmanship, and respect into an exciting, high-stakes story. An Imagination Stage original that broke new ground in bilingual children’s theatre.
Written and Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Natasha Holmes
Music by Tim Guillot
March 3 – 30
It’s bedtime, and two children use their imaginations to turn their room inside out, into a wonderland of mess! While playing dress-up, a glove becomes a dancing fish, a shirt becomes a fantastical creature, and a sock dance rocks the closet.
Miss Nelson is Missing!
Based on the book by Harry Allard
Illustrated by James Marshall
Book, music & lyrics by Joan Cushing
Directed by Janet Stanford
June 20 – August 10
Best for ages 4+
Meet the fifth graders at Smedley ES, whose poor behavior drives away their sweet teacher, Miss Nelson. Her substitute, the dreaded Viola Swamp, is so strict that she motivates the kids to search for Miss Nelson and try to make amends. An Imagination Stage hit that played at theatres from coast to coast.
ABOUT IMAGINATION STAGE
Imagination Stage, the DMV’s leader in youth development through the arts, is driven to build a generation of compassionate, collaborative young people who are capable of changing the world. Starting as an arts academy in Bethesda in 1979, it has responded to the evolving “needs of now” over the last 44 years by expanding its reach throughout Montgomery County and Washington, DC. Children from every socio-economic group need experiences that teach empathy, demonstrate resilience, and inspire hope. Theatre does just that. Beyond the classes, camps, and shows at its Bethesda location, Imagination Stage brings programming to over 50 locations per year in Montgomery County and DC, through partnerships with Montgomery County Public Schools, DC Public Schools and others. One such program is Theatre for Change. It serves teenagers, using theatre productions and educational workshops to bridge cultural divides, lift up underrepresented voices, and explore complex social justice issues.