Detect a fun and witty ‘Nate the Great’ at Imagination Stage

A young sleuth in a slump has a passion for purple pancakes.

If you’ve never had a hankering for purple pancakes before, you and your children certainly will after catching Nate the Great at Imagination Stage! Tyler Dobies makes a fantastic Nate, a sort of junior Sherlock Holmes (imagine Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock as a 9-year-old and you get the idea) who is a bit of an oddball (with an affinity for pancakes) and who takes his sleuthing seriously. Nate the Great is based on the first of a series of books by Marjorie Sharmat.

Lily Burka as Rosamond, Tyler Dobies as Nate, and Kalen Robinson as Annie in ‘Nate the Great.’ Photo by Margot Schulman.

Of the many songs in the musical, with book and lyrics by John Maclay and music and lyrics by Brett Ryback, the first few stand out for their originality and catchiness. The opening number sets the tone for the show, which is full of dry humor, wordplay, and witty banter in the dialogue. “Dear Mom” really showcases Dobies’ vocal talent as he sets off to solve a mystery—which eventually turns into two mysteries—as the show progresses. Early on in Nate the Great we also meet Annie, played by Kalen Robinson, whom audiences may remember from The Hula Hoopin’ Queen. She’s just as delightful to watch as ever as Nate’s good friend and client of the moment.

Top: Tyler Dobies with Patricia Hurley, Kalen Robinson, and Lily Burka manipulating a puppet dog named Fang; bottom: Patricia Hurley, Kalen Robinson, Tyler Dobies, Lily Burka, and Caelyn D. Williams in ‘Nate the Great.’ Photos by Margot Schulman.

Aspects of the show that stood out for my fellow theatergoers (a 6-year-old, a new father, and a grandmother) were the set design by Andrew Cohen, the sound design by Gordon Nimmo Smith, and the lighting design by Alberto Segarra. These elements worked together seamlessly and added to the excitement and engagement of the production. (Though a sign outside notes that haze and fog will be used, we did not notice either in the performance we attended.)

There are also some memorable puppets in Nate the Great, thanks to Props and Puppet Designer Andrea “Dre” Moore. One was Fang, an impressively large dog with an expressive face, managed expertly by two visible actors, and part of a fun number called “The Fang Tango.” There’s also a cadre of black cat puppets who belong to a delightful character named Rosamond, played brilliantly by Lily Burka giving Wednesday Addams vibes.

When Nate feels like he has failed at being a detective and is in a slump (figuratively and literally as he spends an entire song slumped on the couch), his friends boost him up, and in the final number, the message is driven home: good friends (and pancakes) can help you when you doubt yourself!

Now, can anyone tell me where I can find purple pancakes in the Bethesda area? I would highly recommend going out for pancakes, no matter the color, after you take in this fun production at Imagination Stage this summer.

Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

Nate the Great plays through August 11, 2023, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, MD. Purchase tickets ($25–$39) online.

Best for ages 5 to 11.

The program for Nate the Great is online here.

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.

Nate the Great
Books and Lyrics by John Maclay
Music and Lyrics by Brett Ryback
Based on the book by Marjorie Sharmat
Direction by Janet Stanford, Music Direction by Deborah Jackson, Choreography by Ashleigh King, Costume Design by Johnna Presby, Stage Management by Madolyn Friedman


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