It’s not a fast slide from “Nate the Great” to Nate the Average or even the Nate Without Any Ideas.
But it happens, much to the surprise of everyone, but nobody was more surprised that Nate himself.
He had built a teenage career by being a deductive detective, taking cases and solving the riddles for his friends and family.
But this latest one (eventually two) has him flummoxed and the story, “Nate the Great” running now at First Stage is a spellbinding play that brings the audience along the tortured path trying to solve the mystery.
Brilliantly adapted by John Maclay (book and lyrics) and Brett Ryback (music and lyrics) director Niffer Clarke works her musical theater wizardry to craft the kind of show that is perfect for the First Stage audience, kids, adults and anything else. Even your pets would like this one.
Nate (Seth Hoffman) is a teenager with an unbridled lust for pancakes and an equally unbridled confidence in his talents to solve even the most perplexing cases.
His friend Annie (Makayla Davis) has painted a dog, a painting she loves, but it has disappeared. Not lost, but stolen and she asks Nate to take her case.
He does, and what ensues is a step by step search for clues and solutions. Along the way he suspects and then clears friend Rosamond (Emily Harris) who has lost one of her many casts, a cat she calls her Super Hex.
Turn after turn and Nate runs into an empty basket, no answers to found and his spirits drop steadily. His frustration is overwhelming and he’s more discouraged in his abilities than ever before.
I’m not about to reveal what happens, but suffice it to say that with little brother (Cole Sison) and the always magnificent Elyse Edelman (the only adult ) plays everything from Nate’s Mom to Annie’s dog, Fang does an amazing tango with both Nate and Annie.
One of the most remarkable things about First Stage is the challenge facing the cast and the designers. Everything is done to a high level, while combining the need to make a production simple enough for children to follow.
This is a musical, but instead of simple melodies and lyrics, Mr. Ryback has written music that is complex and not the least bit easy to sing.
Ms. Clarke is a veteran of musical theater and brings her sensitivities and sills to bear on a cast that could easily overwhelmed by the challenges. She understands, as well as anyone, the concept of acting and singing that you need to tell a story, and to move it forward.
I have long held a dream to perform in a musical directed by Ms. Clarke. The discovery process for an actor/singer must be the ultimate in creative satisfaction.
Mr. Maclay, who is the Director of Artistic Development at First Stage has taken a great tale and moved it forward steadily, which honesty and free of gimmicks. Two seasons ago he collaborated with Joe Foust to adapt the best Robin Hood I’ve ever seen. Mr. Maclay has an unerring ear for raking the varied and diverse simple and understandable.
Mr. Ryback captures the synthesis of humor and storytelling with the need to make songs a part of something bigger.
First Stage is a remarkable company, perhaps the best family theater company in the country, It proves, on a daily basis that there is no need to dumb down – or play down – to create magical enchantment for everybody in the family.
“Nate the Great” runs through Nov. 11.
Production credits: Niffer Clarke, Director; Brett Ryback, Music Director; Giana Blazquez, Choreographer; Joanna Iwanicka, Scenic Designer; Lyndsey Kuhlmann, Costume Designer, Jesse Klug, Lighting Designer, Stage Manager, Melissa L Wanke; Assistant Stage Manager, Carrie Johns; Production Photographer, Paul Ruffalo.