From the Chicago Tribune
April 21, 2011
By Chris Jones
After encountering some cuddly chicken or perky pig at a kids show, I’m familiar with getting an uneasy feeling at that night’s dinner table. It goes with the job. But I never thought I’d be beset by moral qualms at Dunkin’ Donuts.
And yet there I was this morning, staring down in my paper bag and pondering the souls of the delectable, fat-and-sugar creations therein. One of them, I thought, could be Arnie.
Arnie, or, to give him his full due, Arnie the Doughnut, is the hero of the charming little show of the same name at the Lifeline Theatre. This is a full-on, dead-serious musical for the kindergarten set (give or take a couple of years), replete with a singing jelly doughnut, a French cruller chanteuse and, of course, the overachieving man himself, bedecked in chocolate and sprinkles but suffused with angst.
The plot revolves around Arnie’s realization — on the very day of his creation — that his raison d’etre is not to sing and dance but to be chomped down upon. His pals seem remarkably reconciled to their inevitable destruction (the jelly-filled gal seems not to worry that her jelly costume already looks a bit like splattered brains), but not Arnie, who, like the heroes of many fine musicals, starts to wonder if he has a greater purpose.
A young fellow next to me helpfully observed that, since Arnie has a hole, he would make a very fine pencil holder. It was expressed, but not acted upon. Arnie had deeper plans.
All in less than an hour, Arnie talks his way out of the bag and ends up as a great comfort to a gentleman who lives in a condominium association with very repressive rules about pets but not much forethought when it comes to preparing for the possibility of someone walking a doughnut. But why can’t a doughnut be a pet? Why can’t you, oh young audience member, do and be whatever you want?
That’s the takeaway. And it comes with a side of George Howe’s delightfully catchy numbers (somebody should commission this guy to compose an adult show) and Frances Limoncelli’s clear and lively adaptation of the much-loved children’s book by Laurie Keller. There’s plenty of amusement for adults in Elise Kauzlaric’s great little production, but the show is never snarky nor overly self-aware. The actors (Timothy Cahill was a tuneful and fully empathetic Arnie at the show I saw) commit fully to their deep-fried reality, even though the singing doughnut holes are a gas.
From the Chicago Reader
April 6, 2011
By Dan Weissmann
On the morning he’s born, chocolate-covered Arnie gamely resolves to find his life’s purpose. Discovering the shocking truth when his owner attempts to take a bite, Arnie makes his objections heard. Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation retains the absurdist zing of the 2003 children’s book by Laurie Keller while freely adding complementary ingredients, including zippy songs by George Howe and a Kafkaesque subplot involving a totalitarian condo-board president. Brandon Paul Eells brings not only sweetness but wit to the title role–this doughnut is a naive goofball, but nobody’s fool–and makes Arnie’s terror and disillusionment truly affecting. The entire cast provide spirit, charm, and jazzy harmonies under Elise Kauzlaric’s capable direction. The show is a delight–delicious and substantial, even without a kid tagging along.
From Chicago Parent
March 29, 2011
By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara
Lifeline Theatre’s production of Arnie the Doughnut is a playful, funny musical with a subject dear to our hearts. Yeah…I know you’re thinking doughnuts. And we have been known to take home a dozen chocolate with sprinkles now and then. But what I was really referring to goes deeper than holey fried dough. Arnie the Doughnut is a fight against petty tyrants. It’s a rallying cry to fight back against the Dolores Umbridge types from Harry Potter and kangaroo mama types from Horton Hears a Who. The residents of The Cozy Confines Condos are confined indeed, under the thumb of the rules obsessed board president.
It takes Arnie, a colorful, nonconformist, to shake the residents out of their fears and get them to unite and overthrow the dictator of a president. He’s not content just to accept his grim destiny. Amid hilarious songs with creative lyrics (…I’ll never get to play Othello), the residents learn how to use the letter of the law to defeat the dictator who had bullied them all into voting her way. Of course for all the kids at children’s theatre productions, there are adults who brought them there, and this play will speak to the grownups as much as the littles.
Life is full of bullies and bureaucrats, whether you’re 4 or 44. So it’s a valuable lesson to learn how to deal with them fairly and stand your ground, without breaking the rules or cowering in fear. Arnie the Doughnut sings cheerfully about playing with your food, getting outside and meeting your neighbors, and making friends. And in the end, the rules bully was undone by her own laws, and by the united front of a group of friends. These are truly great teachings for all ages to remember.
We thought this play was particularly funny since we know people living with condo associations much like this one. They can’t have pets, paint their homes any color other than light hardboiled egg yellow and greenish grey, and they have to approve anything hanging on their porches.
Conversely, we live in a crazy, creative, colorful home with a yard full of homemade pottery, bird feeders, and manikin part planters. Oh yeah, we also share our abode with a huge tank full of tropical fish and three big dogs. We’d be summarily booted out of Cozy Confines Condos in a nano second. Still, although our home is blissfully free of an overseeing condo board, we still have to deal with the local school council and other rule proliferating and sometimes short sighted entities in our daily lives.
We recommend Arnie the Doughnut as a playful romp with a deeper purpose. We have been seeing children’s shows at Lifeline Theatre for years and have never been disappointed. The costumes are so fun and funny, people were laughing before the doughnuts opened their mouthes to sing. Once again, Lifeline raises the bar on family theatre.
From Chicago Now
“Arnie The Doughnut”: DELICIOUS!
March 27, 2011
By Katy Walsh
‘Your better half that makes you laugh’ doesn’t necessarily describe your spouse. It could in fact be the best affectionate phraseology reserved for your pet doughnut! Lifeline Theatre KidSeries presents Arnie the Doughnut. In a bakery, where pastries compete to be first sold, a chocolate frosted doughnut with colorful sprinkles aspires to ‘be the best doughnut possible.’ The icing on the cake is the freshly-baked doughboy doesn’t realize he’s delicious for a reason. When a regular customer deviates from his usual, Arnie gets sacked for home. Can a doughnut survive in a world starving for confection? Arnie the Doughnut is a family friendly musical about friendships rising out of inedible encounters.
Under the direction of Elise Kauzlaric, the ensemble bakes up some tasty fun. Kauzlaric keeps the high-spirited fun tightly paced. George Howe adds the jam with vibrant music and lyrics. As doughnuts or doughnut holes, the ladies collectively are deliciously harmonious. Abby E. Sammons (Cruller), Julia Merchant (Jelly) and Audrey Flegel (Powdered) are sunshiny goodness. The trio are a triple treat! Sammons also embraces her inner French Cruller and her accent is ooh-la-la. Mr. Doughnut himself, Brandon Paul Eells (Arnie) is an adorable, playful morsel. Eells has the enthusiasm of a full bakers’ dozen. His new friend, Anthony Kayer (Mr. Bing) has the awkward likability of an ordinary guy looking for a meaningful relationship with a doughnut. Kayer decides to play with his food and his life gets sprinkled with love.
The set, designed by Melania Lancy, is brightly colored bakery and condo community. Kat Doebler dresses up the baked goods with clever hats identifying their individuality. The combination visual appeals in the full-flavor variety. The show is a perfect length and animation for 3 years old and up. WARNING for doughnut lovers, Arnie the Doughnut may spoil your appetite for Krispy Kremes. Friends don’t let their friend eat their friends!
From Chicago Theater Blog
A sweet indulgence of children’s theater
March 25, 2011
By Jason Rost
The First Lady would maybe not approve of this delightful children’s musical due to the fact that the play’s hero is a talking fried fatty confectionary void of nutritional value. Nevertheless, Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation of Laurie Keller’s acclaimed children’s book, “Arnie the Doughnut” is chock full of moral and whimsical value. Limoncelli’s adaptation is further enhanced by George Howe’s catchy doo-woppy music and lyrics complimented with doughnut hole background singers.
The story begins on Arnie’s (Brandon Paul Eells) birthday. He was born earlier that morning in the fryer at the Downtown Bakery. Arnie is a chocolate frosted doughnut, with somewhere between one hundred and one million sprinkles. Proving to be quite philosophical for his young age, he wonders, “What’s my purpose?” He has a strong desire to be the “best doughnut he can be” doing whatever it is doughnuts were made for. Oh, poor naive Arnie doesn’t realize his fate.
He meets new friends vying to be chosen in the doughnut display case, Jelly (Julia Merchant), Powdered (u/s Jasmine Ryan charmingly played at the performance I attended; regularly portrayed by Audrey Flegel) and French Cruller (Abby E. Sammons). They break into the Howe’s most infectious number, “Sunshiny Goodness.”
Arnie is chosen from the display case by the routine obsessed Mr. Bing (Anthony Kayer). Mr. Bing has come to the bakery for his normal plain donuts, but in a fluke, they’ve run out. You know Mr. Bing: he’s the bachelor who pays every bill ten days early, is in bed by 9PM on weekends and still has all of his vacation days left at the end of the fiscal year. He finally takes a risk on a chocolate covered sprinkled doughnut. During the song “A Bumpy Ride,” Arnie rides in a giant paper bag alongside Mr. Bing. Scenic designer, Melania Lancy creates a fun doughnut car that looks more like a deep fried Segway. Arnie learns the hard reality of his true purpose in life when Bing takes his first bite. It’s all a fun adventure from there, trying to figure out what role Arnie can fill in Bing’s life. Julia Merchant is deliciously evil as Mr. Bing’s rule-loving condo president, Ms. Plute.
Lifeline excels in children’s theater, because they clearly treat it no differently than their main stage. The talent takes this play to the next level. Eells is expressive and genuine, not to mention a wonderful comedic actor in every sense. His vocal work is full of life and character. The interplay between him and Kayer bring some subtle comedic laughs for adults. The design is whimsically thrilling. The colors in Lancy’s set are just as vibrant as Keller’s book. Also, Kat Doebler’s costumes allow for wonderfully fanciful transformations of characters. Joe Court’s sound design is the sprinkles on top, particularly one great gag implementing the Psycho sound effect.
In the end, the message of variance in life and companionship may lie a little over the head of the youngest of audiences. Also, do be warned that this play encourages breaking rules (which I found refreshing). I would probably recommend this play for slightly older children, or kids who love the “Arnie” book. A little like a doughnut, the story is light on sustenance and heavy on delight. It seems as though the adults in the audience were laughing constantly, while the children were slightly in awe.
What young audiences will receive, regardless of age, is a wonderful experience in the theatre. The intimacy of a production such as this, compared to a large commercial “Disney-fied” children’s show, provides for a much more magical and personal experience for kids. Just be prepared to shell out for Howe’s irresistible soundtrack on CD, resulting in sudden outbursts expressing the desire to be “More Than Just Delicious.”