EDITH BARNARD, PEORIA MUSIC LADY

'Flood of Creatures' inspires with music

Performance uses catchy tunes to uplift audience

Sunday, August 6, 2006

by GARY PANETTA

of the Journal Star

A Review

PEORIA - The wacky, party atmosphere at "Flood of Creatures," a charming children's musical that continues next week, begins when you enter the Apollo Theatre's doors at 311 Main St. and pay a fellow with a pig nose for your ticket.

It continues inside when a handsome woman with dangling butterfly earrings named Edith Barnard - the show's director and playwright - kicks off the evening with a campfire sing-along and a short speech about taking chances and opening up.

Which is exactly what this community theater cast of 15 - half of whom have never been on stage before - does with much conviction and audience interaction. Be prepared: This is a show that asks you to stand up, do breathing exercises and sing songs about harmony and understanding with people dressed like a cow, a goat, a goose, a rooster and the rest of the usual barnyard suspects. Although everything is scripted, "Flood of Creatures" feels at times like the improvised, joyful episodes from a bygone time and place that used to be called "happenings."

This particular happening springs from the mind and soul of the aforementioned Barnard, a recent Peoria transplant and theater artist extraordinaire, who created "Flood of Creatures" years ago and is bringing it to the city for the first time. The story is simple and owes something to Noah's Ark: A big rainstorm and the ensuing flood drives a bunch of animals to the house of one Eunice Hempshley (well-played by Wendy Strauss), a neatness fanatic who prefers to be left alone. As the house is set adrift amid rising waters, Eunice and the beasts have to learn to get along. And the beasts - which include a rooster who can't crow and a dog who wishes he were a cat and a cat who wishes she had a home - have to overcome their personal difficulties as well.

"Flood of Creatures" is a well-written piece, full of catchy tunes that manage to be uplifting without being saccharine and a wealth of puns and alliteration and witty aphorisms: "The mind can absorb only what the seat can endure."

Luckily, endurance is no problem for the audience when it comes to this show. Barnard has inspired her inexperienced cast members to give her their very best, and it shows. Two young children, Nick Cassidy and Maddie Conley, beam confidence as the resourceful Gosling and Cow, respectively. So does the kittenish retinue played by Tina Abreu, Sarah Strauss, L.J. Alexandre-Strong and Cassie Bailee. The adult cast members also do well. Standouts include Carroll Buitrago-Long as the strutting, pantomiming Rooster; Brian Schultes as the elegant Mr. Pig; D'Arcy Conley, who manages a shimmy or two as Jenny the Goat; and the stageworthy Rebecca Richardson as Clarissa the Cat.

The show's small orchestra - Wes Sedrel (guitar, banjo, music arranger), Nancy Gillette (oboe), Grant Gillette (bassoon), Dick Hawley (bass), Josh Smith (bass), Sam Biggs (sound effects) and Barnard (piano) - helps give this show a folksy, grass-roots feel. In the end, the plucky optimism of "Flood of Creatures" is infectious. "Singing together," the cast proclaims, "we'll be grand in any song we choose to do." And they certainly are.

Gary Panetta can be reached at 686-3132 or gpanetta@pjstar.com.

 

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Phone: 309-922-9058

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