'Very Bad Day' a good one for theater

Olympia Family Theater comedy: This is one time when it's OK to delight in someone else's misery

April 1, 2011 

Everyone has bad days. But when author Judith Viorst's son, Alexander, has a bad day, it's not just plain bad. It's a "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

Friday night, Olympia Family Theater opens its production of the musical based on Viorst’s 1972 children’s classic.

And like the book, this is a show that takes the terrible – or at least a second-grader’s idea of terrible – and makes it hilarious.

“It’s a very funny production,” director Stephanie Claire said. “We shouldn’t delight in other people’s misery. Most parents wouldn’t encourage their children to do that. But it’s Alexander, and it’s really delightful.”

Claire is directing the show as her thesis project for a master’s degree in theater production from Central Washington University. As part of the project, she interviewed both Viorst, now 80 years old, and composer Shelly Markham.

Viorst talked to Alexander about the book before it was published, Claire said. “She said, ‘I’ve written this book and I want to check out the title with you and see if you agree.’

“He got really quiet and grumbly and said, ‘Why did you write about my very bad day?’ And she said, ‘I could name it something else, like Harold’s bad day or Robert’s bad day,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s OK. Leave my name on it.’ ”

“Because it comes from that place of truth, I think the comedy is just that much sweeter,” said Jen Ryle, the company’s artistic director. “All of us who are moms know what that’s like when your child is having a really bad day, and it isn’t funny at the time, but it can be funny later or in the retelling.”

Like all of the Olympia Family Theater productions this season, this one is based on literature. “It’s Family Read Aloud Month, and it’s a perfect title to read aloud for kids,” Ryle said.

Claire remembers reading it to her own daughter many years ago.

And like most OFT shows, this one has an all-adult cast, though many of the characters are kids. Alexander is played by Steven Wells, who played Toad in OFT’s “Frog & Toad” in the fall.

“Steven is just delightful,” Claire said. “He can do that mad, grumpy, unhappy, spoiled, I-didn’t-get-what-I wanted kid thing.”

Any time adults are cast as children, it can be challenging, said Claire, who also is serving as musical director for the show.

“I really was adamant about them approaching the text from honesty,” she said. “They can’t be kids; they can just play what kids are going through.”

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

What: Olympia Family Theater presents the musical based on Judith Viorst’s book about her young son having one of those days.

When: 7 p.m. today and April 7, 8, 14 and 15, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and April 9, 10, 16 and 17

Where: The Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

Tickets: $15.50 for adults; $12.50 for students, seniors and military; $8.50 for children younger than 12; $5 and up at the door for the Thursday, April 7 performance.

More information: 360-570-1638 or www.olyft.org or www.olytix.org

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