Review by Molli Vandehey – Portland Mom and PDX Kids Calendar reader
I must admit that our family approached the opening of Magic School Bus with nervous excitement. The excitement, of course, because it’s THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS! It’s one of the things from my childhood that I can, and do, share with my children. My 9 year old, Leilani, and I have pored through the books often, as she has scientific questions that I – a history and English loving mama – am not equipped to answer. The nervousness, though, stemmed from the fact that we were also bringing my 2.5 and 4-year-olds (daughter Breezy and son Sage, respectively) to what would be their first foray into the live theater experience.
Upon arrival, we found our seats quickly and easily, thanks to wonderful Oregon Children’s Theatre employees and volunteers, who also informed us there were booster seats available for young kids for just $1 a piece. We actually managed to get there a few minutes early, so the lights were still up and I had the chance to point out things like the audience, the stage, the lights (we still get a bit scared of the dark), and how important it is to respect people’s personal space and let everyone enjoy the show. Luckily, we didn’t get there too early, because just as the kids were about to get fidgety, the lights dimmed, and a gentleman delivered a nice short intro. Then the screen went up and we were immediately inside Ms. Frizzle’s classroom, where the brightly clad students broke into a song and dance number that enthralled even my smallest little theater-goer. The subject matter (climate change) was introduced through the student’s perusal of an old book on climate. To show the students how things had changed required a trip on, of course, The Magic School Bus!
Side note here: Leilani’s biggest pre-show question was “How are they going to make the school bus fly?” and I thought they did a really good job integrating set, acting, and screen/ video technology to create the illusion of flying without scaring or distracting the young audience. I was surprised to see that the average age of the audience seemed to be about 5-6, perhaps those moms are just more intrepid than my initial instinct.
Though my little ones did get a bit fidgety and hungry, we all – myself, my husband, and my 4th grader – found all of the acts to be just the right length. There were usually one or two songs per scene – enough to keep the show lively without getting too silly or missing the point and hiding the lessons. The scenery/effects did get a bit abstract at times for younger kids, or those without much previous knowledge of climate patterns and space. But the well-timed antics helped get them over those humps. In the final scene, the kids realize, some with great sadness, that it is us as people who have caused all the changes. But they are brightened by ideas of how they can help lighten the effects of global warming. I have to admit that as an Oregonian who hears this kind of preaching all the time, a little voice inside me was shouting “AGENDA” as the actors chanted “GO GREEN,” but the kids thought it was awesome. Leilani kept up a steady stream of chatter on the way home about how if every single person in the world brought reusable bags with them to the grocery store, we’d make SUCH an impact!
Though they were starting to fade in the final 10 or 15 minutes, even my little ones were disappointed when the lights came up and the show was over. Imagine their excitement as we exited the theater to find the actors in the lobby signing programs. Such a wonderful opportunity for the children to really connect with the actors.
All in all, the day was a total success, the kids left happy, and everyone learned something – even if we don’t consider Breezy’s earth shattering revelation that “The bus is YELLOW” to be particularly newsworthy, a 4 year old who is now playing “Recycling man” is definitely worth the trip.
Mom tip #1: I did read Sage a Magic Schoolbus book prior to our visit so he would not be lost. Breezy was lost in her dolls and had no interest in pre-experiencing anything.
Mom tip #2: Get the booster seat. Really. You won’t regret it. If your kid refuses to sit in it, think of it as a donation to an awesome cause!
Mom tip #3: I advise feeding the kids before coming. While the concession stand snacks are not outrageously expensive, it could be spendy and difficult to feed those with allergies. You are also not permitted to eat in the theater, so unless you arrive early enough, you may find yourself teasing the kids with goodies they can’t finish.
Molli and her family were given complimentary tickets to attend the performance on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar.