Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was first published in 1972, which means that millions born in the past 60 years or so have either read the book as a parent or have been the youngster on the receiving end. Viorst's classic makes for a wry read-aloud, especially for slightly older kids, who can relate to the leading character's frustrations with family life and school. The book's translation to the musical stage is a somewhat different matter, though there are enough positives in Nashville Children's Theatre's new production to recommend it.
A collection of "evil spirits" surrounds Alexander in his bed one morning, foreshadowing the difficulties ahead. He wakes up with gum in his hair, he gets no surprise toy in his cereal box, his classroom singing proves embarrassing, he's left out of games on the playlot, he doesn't get the style of sneakers he wants at the shoe store, and when he goes to the dentist with his two brothers, he's the only one with a cavity. So it goes, with Alexander repeating his constant woebegone mantra, "I think I'll move to Australia."
Viorst handled the faithful adaptation of her book, plus the lyrics, but this stage version plays out a lot less subtly—even reaching whiny proportions sometimes. The generally upbeat score by Shelly Markham is memorable only for a jazz-tinged flavor reminiscent of composer-pianist Dave Frishberg, author of tunes such as "I'm Just a Bill" from Schoolhouse Rock! and the Diana Krall standby "Peel Me a Grape."
Scot Copeland's direction incorporates comical sound effects, some pantomime and a few flying setpieces plus colorful costumes and lighting. The action is suitably staged—including a genuinely humorous scene when Alexander sets a photocopier to running amok—yet that doesn't mitigate occasional slow patches that provoked restlessness among some younger theatergoers.
Patrick Waller portrays our beleaguered hero with expected boyishness, and he manages to rouse the youthful NCT audience into chiming in with him whenever he repeats aloud the long-winded title of the show. Otherwise it's a very familiar NCT cast, with Pete Vann and Ross Brooks portraying Alexander's brothers, Rona Carter as his mom, plus Jenny Littleton—subbing at the Nov. 6 performance for Lisa Kimmey Winans—in two supporting roles. Bobby Wyckoff gets to tackle the big fun—in drag as Mrs. Dickens, Alexander's teacher, and also as the fedora-topped, lounge-lizardly shoe salesman. Henry Haggard completes the ensemble with a very funny turn as Dr. Fields, the "sadistic" dentist.
Certainly not terrible, nowhere near horrible, and pretty good often enough, Alexander continues onstage at NCT through Jan. 3.
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*Alexandra Grace, not Alexadra Grace