Ivy + Bean the Musical Debuts in Berkeley

7 Feb

A year ago Berkeley author Annie Barrows received an email from an old friend that resulted in bring the characters from her best-selling children’s book series Ivy + Bean to life. The email from Nina Meehan, executive director of Bay Area Children’s Theatre, was a simple question: What do you think about making Ivy + Bean into a musical for kids?

Barrows, along with her publisher Chronicle Books, loved the idea and gave BACT the blessing to transform Ivy + Bean in to an original stage production. Meehan immediately reached out to New York playwright and composer Scott Elmegreen, creator of Magic School Bus Live! The Climate Challenge, for help. The result is a new musical that debuts Saturday, Feb. 9 at Berkeley’ Freight and Salvage for a three week run, then travels to San Ramon and Mill Valley.

Megan Putnam and Catherine Gloria in the roles of Ivy and Bean.

Megan Putnam and Catherine Gloria in the roles of Ivy and Bean.

With eight Ivy + Bean books and a ninth on the way, Elmegreen had his hands full when it came to creating a story for an audience of Ivy + Bean fans. Elmegreen focused in on what he calls “musical moments;” instances where the drama was high and would translate great on the stage. Hopefully the young audience members won’t get too upset if something from book four makes it’s way into the storyline.

“We are asking our audience to take some imaginative leaps,” said Meehan. “Just as they do in the process of reading.”

If Barrow’s reaction at a technical rehearsal last week was any taste of what fans of the books will think, the BACT crew and Elmegreen have nothing to worry about.

“This part is similar to how you don’t know how your book is going to be illustrated,” Barrows said before entering the rehearsal. “Look at Ivy! She looks just like Ivy.” Barrows declared after seeing actress Megan Putnam in her red wig and polk-a-dot dress. “It’s like having all my imaginary friends come to life.”

Meehan’s gut feeling that the story of Ivy and Bean of Pancake Court was going to be a great kids’ production has not only been validated by the reaction of Barrows, but by the surrounding community and fans of the books. To cover the costs of creating a new musical BACT created a Kick-starter campaign that has surpassed its $5,000 goal before the deadline. And performance dates are already selling out.

“There is no way I had the expertise on what you bring forward and what you bring back,” said Barrows when asked how the theatrical production differs from her books, adding that Elmegreen and Bay Area Children’s Theatre has done a beautiful job.

Ivy + Bean the Musical will be making its worldwide debut on Saturday, Feb. 9 to a sold out crowd at Freight and Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley) with a special appearance and autograph session with Annie Barrows.

If You Go:

Feb 9–March 3. Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley.  $15–$20. www.bactheatre.org

March 9–17. Front Row Theater, 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon. $15–$20.

March 23–April 6. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. $15–$20.

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