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Tag Archives: Coterie Theatre

I am proud to announce (and happy to congratulate) the Anderson Award winners for June 2017.

Best Play:  Rumors at The Barn Players
Best Musical:  Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Unicorn Theatre
Best Actor:  Darrington Clark  in Garfield: the Musical at Coterie Theatre
Best Actress:  Emmy Panzica in The Ironing Man at KC Melting Pot Theatre
Best Cake:  Priscilla Queen of the Desert at  Unicorn Theatre



Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Unicorn – June 2017

Please continue to support local theatre and these award-winning theatres and theatre artists.  They have much more to come!


Still Running at The CoterieGarfield: the Musical (until Aug 6th)

Next up at The Barn Players– The Crucible (July 14-30)

Next up at The UnicornMen on Boats (Sept 6- Oct 1)


For more information on the Anderson Awards (and the beautiful people they are named after) please see this post.


The fifth-grade protagonists of Bridge to Terabithia are also “others.” Jesse is poor and artistic, while Leslie is new in school and the child of bohemian intellectuals who don’t watch TV — an aberration that boggles the minds of her classmates.

The friendship between these two outsiders is at the heart of Katherine Paterson‘s Newbery Award-winning novel and of the play she adapted with Stephanie Tolan. Jesse and Leslie create a secret hideout called Terabithia, “a place just for us,” as Leslie says, where they imagine themselves regal and valorous.

Taking the always-risky flyer on a nearly all-child cast, director Jeff Church wins big with the wonderful leads, the personable 14-year-old Marshall Hopkins as the sensitive Jesse and 12-year-old Haley Wolff(an absolute natural) as the spirited Leslie. The rapport and warmth between them and their joy in Terabithia make up the linchpin of this very good production.

Megan Catherine Gross transforms the Coterie into magical spaces. She also produced the paintings that do clever double duty as scenic background and Jesse’s artwork. Ron Megee and Lee Berhorst‘s Terabithian palace is an inspired piece of design. Georgianna Buchanan chooses to keep the costumes true to the book’s 1970s time frame, a savvy strategy that evokes waves of parental nostalgia with every flower-sprigged calico maxi dress and ethnic embroidered poncho.

The novel’s arc, in particular its abrupt tragedy, plays out much less effectively in abbreviated play form. In fact, the ending seemed to fly over the heads of the shorter audience members. But the idea of friendship as a refuge, an act of courage, and the magic that turns outsiders into insiders — that shines bright and clear.

The Coterie Theatre’s earnest production of “The Bridge to Terabithia,” an affecting tale of friendship and loss, never quite catches fire — a reflection of the Coterie’s problematic performance space and the story’s demand for a “magical” quality that never materializes.

All the pieces are there, but they fit together awkwardly. Director Jeff Church has put together a cast of competent adult actors and enthusiastic, if inexperienced, child performers. And scenic designer Megan Catherine Gross, who did such a fine job on the Coterie’s production of “Life on the Mississippi,” creates a utilitarian performance environment graced with large-format paintings (they look like watercolors) reflecting the fledgling artwork of the play’s central character.

The Newberry Medal-winning novel by Katherine Paterson (which became a movie in 2007) was adapted for the stage by Paterson and Stephanie Tolan. Set in 1978 in rural Virginia, it dramatizes the friendship between two school kids — Jesse Aarons (Marshall Hopkins), an aspiring visual artist, and Leslie Burke (Haley Wolff), whose socially progressive parents have moved next door to the Aarons’ farm.

Both kids feel like outcasts — Jesse because he’s interested in art, Leslie because of her parents’ apparent alternative lifestyle — but they create their own escape hatch. They find an isolated place in the woods, accessible only by a swinging rope above a creek, where they create their “kingdom” of Terabithia. It’s a safe harbor, where they can talk about their dreams and aspirations.

In Gross’s set, Terabithia is a raised platform on the far right-hand side of the stage, while other key locations, including the Aarons’ kitchen and a class room, are stretched out horizontally on the theater’s central stage. The aisles are used for a footrace and the isolated playing area against the back wall briefly becomes an art museum.

The problem is that the show requires two contrasting elements — realism (the farm, the school, the woods) and fantasy (Terabithia). This production lacks the space or the resources to credibly achieve either.

Hopkins and Wolff deliver unaffected performances and make an appealing young couple. Megan Secrest, as Jesse’s little sister, is a scene-stealer with her comically broad performance and exaggerated accent. An adult actor who tried to get away with this would be accused of mugging; Secrest, on the other hand, charms the audience with her antics.

Amy Urbina, as a teacher, and Coleman Crenshaw and Jayme Overstreet, as Jesse’s parents, do their jobs. The other child performances fulfill the script’s minimal requirements.

This is a love story of sorts, as well as a tale of youthful aspirations and sudden tragedy. That implies a lot of dramatic highs and lows, but this production isn’t half as engaging as it needs to be. The show’s emotional through-line remains flat as a pancake.

“Bridge to Terabithia” runs through Feb. 27 at the Coterie Theatre. Call 816-474-6552 or go to

To reach Robert Trussell, theater critic, call 816-234-4765 or send email to

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