by Mike Hoban
‘Yellow Bird Chase’ – Conceived and Directed by Jason Slavick; Written by the LAB Ensemble; Scenic Design and Props by Rebecca Lehrhoff; Puppetry Direction & Design by Penny Benson; Costume Design by Kendra Bell; Lighting Design by PJ Strachman. Presented by Liars & Believers (LAB) at the Boston Center for the Arts, Martin Hall, 527 Tremont Street Boston through May 21.
There’s a lot of fun to be had at Liars & Believers’ expanded production of ‘Yellow Bird Chase’, the laugh-filled fairy tale with music that marks their debut as Artists in Residence at the Boston Center for the Arts. Originally developed as a 30 minute piece for the 2015 “Outside the Box” festival, “Yellow Bird” is 70 minute mash-up of clowning, puppetry, and cabaret-style music that is pure entertainment. And while the production appears to be aimed mostly at the kiddies, there’s still plenty to keep the adults in the audience amused, particularly if they’re fans of iconic 60’s pop tunes.
The story opens in what appears to be the maintenance room of a building, complete with cleaning supplies, mops and brooms – as well as musical instruments, specifically a standup bass and a trombone. Enter the “Gods of Maintenance”, in actuality the three piece band Luminati, led by chanteuse Johnny Blazes, who open with a number (Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is”) that incorporates audience members playing empty buckets along with the tune. They are soon joined by three clowns: Capitano Marco Cantolop del Portudo (Jesse Garlick), Poodge (Glen Moore), and Ruffles Featherbottom (the impossibly adorable Rebecca Lehrhoff, who also designed the set and props), who speak only in a form of gibberish that sounds vaguely like English-speaking first graders trying to come up with their own Romance language.
The clown posse comes upon a bird (cleverly fashioned from a pair of yellow rubber cleaning gloves) named Flotizar(?), and while the other two clowns are taken with the bird’s beauty and warm personality, head clown Marco sees dollar signs when the bird begins laying eggs. The bird escapes, and the adventure begins. We’re taken on a journey by car, boat and plane across rivers and oceans, to mountaintops and even a pirate’s cave (complete with treasure), all the while being serenaded by Blazes and their band, trombonist Tim Lewandowski and bassist Brendan Higgins.
Although the program refers to the production’s musical choices as “terrible pop songs”, there are a number of selections that Luminati interprets wonderfully, including Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me,” Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears”, and Luminati even gives the cheesy “I Think We`re Alone Now” by Tommy James & The Shondells a heart. Captioning for the lyrics (for the deaf and hearing impaired) are also displayed in a myriad of ways, including an unraveling of bubble-wrap with the words magic-markered on the surface by the clowns.
The clowning by the troupe is utterly charming and very funny at times, and the grade school kids at the matinee I attended were completely engrossed throughout – no easy trick for any entertainer. There was plenty of audience participation, and although some of the younger tykes were a little shy, the older ones (and some adults) jumped right into the fun. This is a good take for kids of all ages, and LAB also offers free puppetry workshop for kids after remaining matinees on May 13, 14, 20, and 21. For more info, go to: http://www.liarsandbelievers.com/portfolio/yellowbirdchase/