“The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” is good old-fashioned fun for Chicago families

For a character that was first introduced in 1964, Flat Stanley has proven to be pretty timeless. A good part of that is probably due to the Flat Stanley Project, which sends cardboard versions of the popular character to distant parts of the world. But the rest of the story’s popularity can be credited to its charming plot that adapts well to any time period – something that Northbrook Theatre’s latest show, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, uses to its advantage.

If You Go:

The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley

  • Northbrook Theatre for Young Audiences, 3323 Walters Ave., Northbrook
  • 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays through May 10
  • , at box office on Fridays
  • northbrooktheatre.org

For the uninitiated, Jeff Brown’s book tells the story of Stanley, a little boy who gets flattened by a giant bulletin board one night while he’s sleeping. The newly flat boy has a number of adventures, from being made into a human kite to being mailed to visit a friend in California. The play follows the original book’s plot, smartly navigating around some difficult-to-act-out scenes (like the aforementioned kite) with the use of pure monologue. Those familiar with the story, however, are sure to notice a few variations, including, notably, the ending.

The hour-long show never lets too much time pass between energetic musical numbers – 15 in all – which helps keep kids’ attention. My favorite, “I Wish I Were,” features Stanley and his brother, Arthur, in a duet that references Star Wars and Harry Potter liberally. There are also some songs that lend themselves to fun dance moves and will have you bouncing in your seat.

The cast of five actors does a fine job handling more than 20 roles, although Grant Brown is a standout for his takes on Stanley’s brother, a hard-of-hearing doctor, and a stereotypical Hollywood agent. And even parents who dread the idea of sitting through a “children’s play” are sure to have a chuckle or two at some of the more advanced jokes.

My 4-year-old companion, a big fan of the book, was a little nervous about “the scary parts” (thieves make an appearance), but in the end, his fears were unfounded. He succinctly summed it up as “great!,” a ringing endorsement if ever I heard one.

Be sure to take advantage of the after-show meet-and-greet, where kids can get photos with the cast members. And an insert in the program has some fun activities that help kids think about the show after they get home.

Despite the modern updates like mentions of SpongeBob and Hannah Montana, the story remains charmingly old-fashioned. In fact, by the end, your kids just might be asking for a pen and a piece of paper in order to write a letter. And in this era of all-email-all-the-time, we can all agree that’s a refreshing perspective.

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