Theater Review: Circus gone ‘Wild’ in world debut at MSMT
Much as the title implies, the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theater (MSMT) production of ‘Wild” is wildly unlike any other play I’ve seen to date, and for all the best reasons.
“Wild” continues through July 29, Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, Allentown. Showtimes are 10 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The new circus musical, in its world debut at MSMT, tells the tale of a young boy who, when receiving a bad grade in class, is told he cannot practice juggling until he has studied hard enough to improve his grades.
Upset and feeling hurt, the boy packs a few stuffed animals, a blanket, and an old photo before running away from home, rushing out into a dark and mysterious forest. What he discovers is a world far unlike his own, filled with monkeys dancing about and playing the day away, with no responsibilities and a lot of fun.
This is all done without any spoken words (there may be a few grunts here or there), but by and large the piece is told through gestures, motions, and expressions.
This leads to a visually exciting and engaging experience, as the exaggerated motions often associated with theater are far more prominent, accentuating some of the best parts of seeing a play on stage.
While there is a loose narrative framework holding the story together, what “Wild” is really about is the impressive performances peppered throughout.
Acrobatic leaps and tumbles, cooperative juggling, dance routines, musical numbers, some slapstick humor, and magic tricks are all here, briefly touched on before being set aside to make way for the next bit. It all flows together nicely, and each of the sections stands out in your mind as memorable and often hilarious.
“Wild” relies on a little bit of imagination, but in the best ways possible. The monkeys, while having physical traits and some costuming that suggest their animal nature, are clearly humans, with no efforts to disguise this fact.
Rather, “Wild” sells itself on recognizing and capitalizing on this, making the monkey characters more comforting to children and allowing for the free movement needed for many of the performances.
The set is well-designed, with lots of vines and green curtains disguising entryways and making for some humorous props during the piece. The floor is covered in a leafy pattern that points to the environment without getting in the way of the actors’ actions.
Ladders help simulate the monkeys climbing trees while also acting as useful means of assisting some of the more acrobatic performances. Rigs are raised and lowered from the ceiling, enabling aerial pieces to be played out, both for humor and amazement.
Performances by all the actors are superb, but especially so by Tommy Walters, who plays the young boy, encapsulating the fluctuating emotions of a child as he tries to find himself.
Christopher Scheer also does a stand-out job as the primary monkey who first meets and befriends the young boy. He has clearly been trained in some of the more dynamic and difficult acrobatic tricks, and while the entire cast presents some impressive skills, Scheer shows a level of comfort while performing that made for a memorable performance.
Because of its focus on a younger audience, the play is only one-hour-long, telling the story succinctly while impressing and amazing children, but never drawing it out too long to lose their attention.
This sort of piece works best in the short time frame, as it gives just enough time for each segment to shine without overextending its welcome. It’s a nice change of pace from some of the three-hour-long, grand operatic works you’ll often find in theaters.
What makes the play stand out most is just how entertaining it is for all age groups. Adults can find just as much to love about this play as the children brought to watch it, amazed by some of the more circus-like pieces. The slapstick bits are hilarious, regardless of the age, reminiscent of a Three Stooges bit, with overreactions and the over-exaggerated actions of theater only helping to accentuate this.
“Wild” is entertaining and enjoyable for everyone. If you’re someone who likes a lighter, goofier play that features a lot of physicality and sells itself on the tricks and segments rather than a story, this is a play worth taking the time to see.
Tickets: Muhlenberg College box office, Trexler Pavilion for Theater and Dance, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/smt; 484-664-3333.