REVIEW: The Short Tree and the Bird Who Could Not Sing

Back L-R: Sam Rueff, Maggie Hai Trang, Britian Seibert, Chelsea D. Harrison. Front: Shayna Schmidt and Rico Reid in THE SHORT TREE AND THE BIRD WHO COULD NOT SING / Photo by Tony Arrasmith
Back L-R: Sam Rueff, Meggy Hai Trang, Britian Seibert, Chelsea D. Harrison. Front: Shayna Schmidt and Rico Reid in THE SHORT TREE AND THE BIRD WHO COULD NOT SING / Photo by Tony Arrasmith

Friday, I was invited to the final dress rehearsal of the latest “Off the Hill” touring show from the Playhouse in the Park.  THE SHORT TREE AND THE BIRD WHO COULD NOT SING will have over 60 performances in the next six weeks in schools and community centers – and just thinking about that makes me exhausted.  Kudos to these amazing Playhouse acting interns (and their incredible support team and leadership) for pulling that off.

This is an ambitious show!  I had expected a 30-45 minute production given that it is targeted to kids in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade.  I also didn’t expect that it would be so funny.  Like all good children’s entertainment, there is more than enough here to keep adults engaged and despite the over 60 minute run time, the little boy sitting in front of me seemed attentive and enchanted by the entire show.

Rico Reid plays “The Short Tree.”  He’s stuck in one place and he can’t see much so he relies on two older, taller tress for information. However, they are chopped down by two of the most hilarious lumberjacks you’ll ever see (supporting players Chelsea D. Harrison and Britian Seibert).  Meanwhile, his flower friend (Meggy Hai Trang) also goes away and he’s left all alone.  However, he is soon joined by others including a squirrel who takes up residence inside of him, a quite sarcastic and dark shadow (the versatile Sam Rueff), some terrified balloons, and a bird.  A bird who cannot sing.  Shayna Schmidt is the bird and not only can the character not hold a tune (an extremely challenging feat for most performers) she also always gets the words wrong of her favorite song (“On Top of Spaghetti,” logically.)

The set, costumes, and props were all designed by Melaine Burgess who worked with director Mark Lutwak many years ago on this very show.  Based in Seattle, Lutwak said that without the support of the various shops at the Playhouse, there’s no way they would have pulled it off.  But they did with some very surprising and creative accessories.  Rueff as a unicycling Gyspsy woman will probably be the highlight of my month. . .what a great and unexpected costume!

This year's class of Playhouse in the Park Acting Interns
This year’s class of Playhouse in the Park Acting Interns

I enjoyed myself very much at this preview and I think your little ones will, also.  Actually, everyone can find something in this show to relate to, which is what makes these Off the Hill shows so good.  You really should find your way to one of the performances somehow.  Here’s a schedule.  I may be mistaken, but I think this is the last major project for these interns and their stint at the Playhouse is coming to an end.  It has been a real pleasure watching them perform this year and interacting with them.  Kudos to the entire group and break a leg at their upcoming New York Showcase.  I hope to cross paths with them again!

THE SHORT TREE AND THE BIRD WHO COULD NOT SING is written by Dennis Foon, directed by Mark Lutwak, and stage managed by Tracy Hoida.  It opens this Tuesday and tours through the end of May.  For more information, click here.

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