From Chicago Stage Review
January 18, 2011
By Robert Andersen
Looking for a way to bust the winter blahs? Are you running out of puzzles, coloring books and patience? Then it is time to take a break and thankfully the stage crafters at Lifeline Theatre have brought us the perfect escape.
The team of playwright/adaptor Frances Limoncelli and her collaborator/cohort/composer George Howe has brought another wonderful children’s story to warm the winter away. Both of these incredible talents have won multiple awards in their individual efforts and their newest offering solidifies their impressive, and well-deserved, reputations.
The original storybook of Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, with illustrations by Paul Yalowitz, teaches us that no mater how mundane a life may be, a little love goes a long way and Lifeline brings the story to the stage with great success. Some kind friends and concern for a neighbor moves this story through jubilation and despair to the happy-ever-after ending—don’t tell the kids ahead of time, their reaction is a crucial part of the show. Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation beautifully captures the characters and message of this charming story and George Howe has an impressive talent for creating original songs, as he has shown us for several years in many of Lifeline’s Kidseries productions.
Director Ann Boyd creates a very interactive environment for the actors and audience and the cast uses it well. (A word of caution; if you have a child that doesn’t react well with strangers in close proximity then you should ask for a seat at the back of the house.) All of the actors in Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch are new to Lifeline and some to Chicago as a whole. One of the names to watch for in the future will be Michael T. Downey as Mr. Hatch. He not only displays the ability to reach the younger audience but he possesses a certain strength of character that reaches many of the adults as well. At one point, I thought a number of the audience members were going to spontaneously hug him. Another performer of note is Sara Sevigny as Mrs. Weed, and others. She has a lightening presence and a wonderful voice. For performers, children’s theatre can often prove to be a challenge to be fun and over “the top” without being one-dimensional and this ensemble meets the challenge wonderfully.
Lifeline created the Kidseries to build a love and excited interest in live theatre for younger audiences. At a time when the arts have been all but eliminated from elementary education, Lifeline is providing more than just entertainment options for kids. They are building a vital bridge to the arts and consistently doing this with thoughtful, creative and delightful productions. My oldest daughter, now 12, still looks forward to “tagging along with Dad” when I go to review a show but is now looking forward to more involved “grown-up” productions. This is proof that Lifeline’s Kidseries plants the seed in young children of interest in live theater that then develops and blossoms into excitement as they grow. My 5-year-old angel however has many more Kidseries experiences ahead of her, and she gets more excited about seeing a play with each new production.
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is another excellent example of why Lifeline Theatre is a Chicago treasure for both youngsters and adults. Treat your kids, and yourself, to this heartwarmingly perfect Valentine or anytime production.
From Chicago Stage Style
January 10, 2011
By Joe Stead
Imagine living in a town where neighbors bake treats for each other, never fail to smile, greet everyone joyfully, toss a ball around and are genuinely happy to see you. It’s the kind of place where the super cute mail man will even stop by to mow your lawn if you want because he thoroughly likes everyone on his route. Well, most everyone. In case you’re wondering what real estate like this is going for these days, be advised that a ticket to Lifeline Theatre’s kids show, “Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch” will take you to this outrageously friendly community for considerably less than a tank of gas.
Lifeline’s shows are the perfect introduction to live theatre for the young and the young at heart. Frances Limoncelli’s heart-warming one-hour musical adaptation of Eileen Spinelli’s delightful 1991 children’s book allows the young audience (and their parents or adult guests) to join in the action. We are told from the start it’s okay to make noise during the play (applause, laughter and feedback are especially welcome), and the four high energy actors knock themselves out to make everyone feel like a special guest in the neighborhood.
It’s clear that everyone is happy to live in this make believe neighborhood. Well, almost everyone that is. Mr. House is certainly an odd case, as we are told. The mysterious, aloof and mechanical loner speaks to none one and sticks to a thoroughly regimented and dull little routine. Mr. Hatch is either the most unfriendly man ever, or maybe he is just waiting for someone to discover the key to let him out of his shell. That key arrives in the form of a surprise Valentine’s Day box of chocolates with a card that reads simply “Somebody Loves You”. But who could that be? Mr. Hatch is as shocked by his sudden secret admirer as his neighbors are to discover a whole new Mr. Hatch. With that one simple gesture, the recluse becomes cheerful, invigorated and involved. Imagine turning a cold-hearted curmudgeon into a lovable pal through the simple gift of love and kindness!
This is one of the most inclusive Lifeline productions you could imagine. They even put some of the audience members center stage on brightly colored wooden benches that Chelsea Warren creatively paints to resemble cute little houses. Not only do the actors encourage feedback from the audience, those seated on stage get a white blanket to warm the chill, and which imaginatively signals the inevitable coming of spring by simply being flipped over. Composer/lyricist George Howe once again supplies a jaunty and tuneful original soundtrack that will make you feel giggly all over.
Director Ann Boyd’s non-traditional use of the space allows the audience and actors to trade places, as Mr. Hatch’s house and place of employment both take place in the audience areas of the already cozy Lifeline auditorium. Is it any wonder Mr. Hatch is so grumpy with such a tiny bed and living space? Michael T. Downey likewise compartmentalizes both Mr. Hatch’s miserly routine and emotions. Downey’s sad facial expressions really do suggest a heartbreaking solitude even as his other three stage compatriots fairly burst with life and good cheer.
I defy any Scrooge out there not to totally adore Micah J.L. Kronlokken, Sara Sevigny (and puppet dog Roof) and Tuckie White, who handily transform themselves into an entire town in true Lifeline versatility style. And don’t worry too much about Mr. Hatch. After all, the title assures us he is truly someone to be loved. What better feeling on a chilly Saturday or Sunday morning than a message of love and acceptance, and one that doesn’t even need Dickens and the ghosts to get it across. If you have a heart, you too are sure to love Lifeline’s “Mr. Hatch”.
From Chicago Theater Blog
The importance of being loved and loving others
January 11, 2011
By Katy Walsh
Every day for lunch, Mr. Hatch has a cheese and mustard sandwich with a prune for dessert. He’s predictable and dull. Every day, his neighbors greet him with ‘Hello, good neighbor!’ Mr. Hatch ignores them, isolating himself from the daily goings on of his pleasant community. Unexpectedly, he receives a Valentine’s Day package with a note saying ‘somebody loves you.’ Who is his secret admirer? Not knowing the culprit, Mr. Hatch befriends everyone. Feeling loved turns him into a brownie-baking, see-sawing, harmonica-playing, good neighbor. When the postman delivers more news about the package, Mr. Hatch returns to ‘normal.’ What’s a neighborhood to do? Lifeline Theatre’s Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch proves to be an upbeat, engaging, heart-warming ‘Love Thy Neighbor 101’.
Under the rambunctious direction of Ann Boyd, the talented cast IS the bright and cheerful neighborhood. To build the community spirit, two rows of audience are on the stage, each made cozy with blankets. Some of the play’s action takes place in Row D of the audience. The effect allows the quartet of actors to interact with guests to play catch, answer questions and teach a new song. In the lead, Michael T. Downey (Mr. Hatch) is so glum and downtrodden initially that his makeover is like a caterpillar to butterfly effervescent explosion. The magical fragility adds to the heart-tugging, misty moment when Downy re-cocoons. The rest of the cast play a variety of parts with delightful amusement. In lively animation, Sara Sevigny is jovial as Mrs. Weed, Mr. AND Mrs. Dunwoody, co-worker and a dog. Sevigny looks so surprised every time her puppet barks that she fooled me into seeing a dog. Micah J.L. Kronlokken energetically meets and greets the kids in the audience with a play by play expectation for the performance. He’s a kid-friendly narrator and mailman. Wearing different hats, Tuckie White goes back and forth from teen to lady to kid with active enthusiasm.
Based on the literary work of Eileen Spinelli, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch has been adapted for the Lifeline stage by Frances Limoncelli. Accompanied with songs composed by George Howe, the story teaches life lessons on kindness and isolation. Along with the familiar treat-people-like-you-want-to-be-treated message, Lifeline goes the extra block to say an individual is responsible for his own happiness. At one point, Mr. Hatch profoundly declares, “I’ve wasted too much time being lonely.” Ultimately, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch illustrates the importance of being loved and loving others. It’s a show for all ages. The kids will giggle. The adults may tear up. And everybody will want to live the greeting, “Hello, good neighbor!”
From Around the Town Chicago
January 11, 2011
By Alan Bresloff
Theater for children is an integral part of their learning process. All of these marvelous stories have a moral and offer children an opportunity to learn without being “preached.” Over the years, I have learned to love the work that Lifeline Theatre has done in doing adaptations of children’s stories and adding music to many. Their current production, “Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch” is an adorable hour of solid storytelling. Based on the book by Eileen Spinelli ( illustrated by Paul Yalowitz), adapted by Frances Limoncelli with some marvelous music by George Howe, “Mr. Hatch” allows us to see just how important love can be to an individual. Try to imagine a town where everyone is friendly, except one neighbor, Mr. Hatch ( a wonderful characterization by Michael T. Downey, who runs the full gamut of emotions to perfection- sad and lonely to happy and giggly).
When we meet him, he is Mr routine. Every day he does things exactly as he did before, alone. He rises in the morning, sweeps his steps, goes to work ( bringing the same lunch everyday), does his job, leaves for home stopping to pick up his newspaper and his dinner and then home alone to read his paper and then go to bed so he can do the same thing tomorrow. Eceyone else in town tries to talk with him, but he is a true hermit. Then, on Valentine’s Day, he receives a special package which changes his life. He now smiles and is friendly to everyone, helping them, becoming a friend. This is a fun show directed by Ann Boyd on a very clever set designed by Chelsea Warren ( who also does a bang up job with the props as well). Some of the seating area is used to be Mr. Hatch’s home and another section his place of employment. To make up for these lost seats, there are seats on the stage made into part of the play as Ms Boyd has designed this production to really get the kids in the audience involved in the telling of this heartwarming story that teaches them about acceptance, companionship and friendship.
The other three cast members, who play a multitude of parts are all bubbly, energetic performers ( this was the 2nd show of the day and they were still filled with energy) Michah J.L. Kronlokken, the adorable Tuckie White and the very funny Sara Sevigny handles all the other characters and help to get the kids ( and some of the adults as well) into the story, answering questions, playing catch and singing along. “Mr. Hatch” is pure magic for the youngsters (suggested 5 and up). As I watched the children, many of who were experiencing their very first theatrical production, I saw eyes glistening with delight, laughter at the right places and even a little sadness when the story called for it. There is nothing like watching children and their reactions- they are honest and their reactions are as well. They express what they see and feel openly and this production captured their hearts, just as it did mine.