Joining worthy revivals like Pig Iron’s Twelfth Night and People’s Light & Theatre Company’s Cinderella: A Panto is the Arden Theatre Company’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School, in an all-new production directed by the Arden’s children’s-theater whiz Whit MacLaughlin.
The Arden scored with this John Olive adaptation of Louis Sachar’s tales ten years ago. They’re sometimes scary, somewhat subversive stories set in a school of thirty rooms built straight up, not side-by-side. David Gordon’s tipped-over classroom — with a door in the floor, windows that slide right instead of up and a blackboard on what is now the ceiling — is brilliantly fun.
The plucky Wayside kids cope with this and other problems: their principal, seen only on TV screens, doesn’t care. The 19th floor and its teacher, Miss Zarves, don’t exist — or do they? And where’s the cow? Their biggest challenge is evil Mrs. Gorf, who turns kids into apples.
They also have some positives: genial gym teacher Louis, sparkling new teacher Mrs. Jewls, and, most importantly, each other — just like real schools.
The Arden commits impressive resources to their children’s shows, including a fine young professional cast. Taysha Canales, Robert Hager, Alex Keiper, Emilie Krause, and Anthony Martinez-Briggs are the students, with Rachel Camp as Mrs. Jewls, Dave Johnson as Louis, and the magical Steve Pacek as everyone else, from evil Mrs. Gorf, her even nastier son, and Principal Kidswatter to tango teacher Miss Valoosh and the voice of Miss Zarves, who comes to life as an animated face (made from school supplies by Jorge Cousineau) on a wall-sized screen.
Richard St. Clair’s bright, witty costumes and Allen Hahn’s bold lighting complete a production that’s dynamic and delightful, showing that learning is not drudgery, but a positive and interactive experience. Sideways Stories from Wayside School is not only for kids, but for all who remember school as an exciting, and occasionally frightening, adventure.
Through Feb. 9, $16-$36, Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., 215-922-1122, .
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