The title of the latest ambitious production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills is “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips..”
If the title is cryptic, so is the production, as I comment on my weekly arts and entertainment observed on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.
But let me add, it is also engaging, at times indeed dazzling, if somewhat scattered. And adding to the stew on stage is that it is based in part on a true story, and as we know, the truth often can be messy.
“946” in the title stands for the number of troops actually killed in a disastrous single-at-sea military exercise in preparation for the D-Day Normandy landing in June, 1944.
“The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” is a popular children’s book by Michael Morpurgo about a lost cat of a girl coming of age during World War Two in a village in England where American troops were stationed, many of whom died in the exercise.
Morpurgo adapted the play with Emma Rice, who directed the distinct mash up style of the English production company of Kneehigh , replete with an on stage swing band, a parade of puppets and a large cast of jumping jack actors.
Throw in a clutter of washtubs filled with water in the orchestra pit fronting the stage representing the English Channel where the troops tragically died. And then there are the toy jeeps, the occasional bicyclist coming out of nowhere and going nowhere and, well, you get the picture. You might kindly label the effort innovative. Others might say it is a muddle.
As for the story line, the young girl loses her cat named Tips, or vice a versa, and spends most of her time on stage looking for her, aided by a couple of jitter bugging American soldiers based in the village.
Then there are several sub plots, some somber – after all a war is going on—and sweet, a young woman is coming of age. By the way, the performance of the girl by Katy Owen animated by flying pigtails and flailing arms and legs enlivens the stage, and lends the tale a winning focus.
It all might be untidy, but it is fun to look at, and actually to join in at, in a rousing finale. You leave the theatre smiling.
“946” runs through March 5, at the welcoming Wallis