He's the champion of detentions at P.S. 38, but Big Nate believes it when a fortune cookie says he's destined for greatness. So, when his school announces a battle of the bands, Nate is sure his group, Enslave the Mollusk, is going to win.
Just one problem: If any band member gets 25 detentions, it will be disqualified from the contest. And Nate (Robby Stone) is setting records with 22 already. He'll have to count on bandmates and best pals Teddy (Aaron Ellis) and Francis (Joey Galda) to keep him in line.
“Big Nate: The Musical,” based on the cartoons and books by Lincoln Peirce, got off to an uneven start with a Thursday preview crowd of Liberty Elementary schoolchildren at the Rose Theater. But the more trouble Nate got into with his teacher, Mrs. Godfrey (Ann Stergiou), and the more he traded insults with his nemesis, tattletale brainiac Gina (Stephanie Jacobson), the more the kids seemed to rally behind Nate. Gina studies at recess, for crying out loud.
Nate may not be the purest role model, but he's one kids can relate to. Stone fills him with a zest for life, making up for a not-quite-stellar singing voice with energy, enthusiasm and sheer delight in making mischief.
By the time the battle of the bands rolled around, the vocal response from the audience left no doubt which group they wanted to win, and it wasn't Gina's Rainbows and Ponies. They clapped along with Enslave the Mollusk's song, went wild when beach balls were tossed out into the audience, and cheered lustily when Mrs. Godfrey left it up to them which band would win. (They also booed loudly for Gina's band).
Not only that, the kids also cheered for Nate to win the heart of Jenny (Alanna Reeves), the cute girl he denies having a crush on. But Jenny seems only to have eyes for Artur (Joe Lullo), a foreign exchange student from Russia. Nate hopes the battle of the bands can change all that.
Director-choreographer Justin Perez and cast get the credit for keeping the young audience involved and creating characters that seemed familiar to them. Music director Todd Brooks has rehearsed the cast well with pre-recorded accompaniment to a pop-rock score by Chris Youstra and Jason Loewith.
A few sound effects arrived behind the beat, and light cues were slightly off here and there, typical preview stuff. The hour-long show is recommended for ages 6 to 13.
Erik Diaz's set, plastered with large and colorful illustrations lifted straight out of Peirce's cartoons and books, is visually busy and fun to get lost in. Costumer Sherri Geerdes puts all the adult characters (most actors play multiple roles) in hooped costume tops, making them more comical figures in a show that's all about the kids.
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What: Family stage musical
Where: Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
When: Today through Nov. 24.
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $18 all seats. Discount vouchers at Hy-Vee supermarkets. Reservations required.
Information: 402-345-4849 or rosetheater.org