Hand shadows, improv add to fun of 'Stories'
By JOSEPH T. ROZMIAREK
Special to The Advertiser
It's remarkable how the simplest effects can result in the biggest impact. In the current production of "Just So Stories," the "ohhhh!" factor comes from hand shadows.
Now, hand shadows have been around ever since primitive man brought fire into the cave, but when the cast in the Honolulu Theatre for Youth production uses their hands (and, in one delightful instance, a foot) to illustrate with silhouettes "How the Camel Got His Hump," the young audience responds with the vocal awe usually reserved for New Year's Eve fireworks.
Adapted by director Eric Johnson and HTY company actors, the production is built around Rudyard Kipling's best known, 100-year-old children's stories that fantastically explain the origins of things.
The camel got his hump as punishment for refusing to do work, so he can now go three days without food or water. The kangaroo got his powerful jump and stabilizing tail from asking to be different and by being chased all day by a dingo dog.
The material is perfect raw material for the HTY creative approach, which includes African-inspired puppetry, call-and-response chanting and some exciting drumming by musical composer and director Babasango (aka Russell Robertson II).
Sandra Payne designs basic black pajamas for the cast, liberally augmented with ears, tails and an expandable nose to show how the elephant calf gained its trunk by having it stretched by a hungry crocodile. H. Bart McGeehon assists Payne with building the masks, props and puppets.
There's even an opportunity for improvisation when the cast asks the audience to contribute ideas for spontaneous development. In the opening Saturday performance, that resulted in a collaborative exploration of "How the Tiger Shark Got His Stripes." As it turned out, he got them — and his angry manner — from being stuck in a patch of sticky seaweed.
Not everything in the show meets with the same success. An armadillo sequence is a prolonged and difficult-to-follow muddle involving several trap doors and a pair of hedgehog and turtle hand puppets that are too small to project well in the large space.
Nevertheless, the show is long on energy, charm and audience appeal and should work well for preschool and elementary grades.