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"Shel's World" a treat for kids of all ages

There was a time when the sheer joy of a Shel Silverstein rhyme made our school days feel more like play. Like many others, I grew up on these poems that were meant to be spoken.

It seems that Anna Kimmell, Mill Mountain Theatre’s director of education, did too. She has conceived, directed and choreographed a delightful tribute to and celebration of the work of Silverstein. Kimmell explains, “I grew up with Shel’s books on my bedside table, and fondly remember using his poems in elementary theatre classes as text for memorization, character work and team building.”

“Shel’s World,” her fast-paced, 30-minute staged reading of Silverstein poems, “opened” Saturday at 10 a.m. Smiling kids with parents and grandparents filled the theater space. Music played and a young boy bounced to the beat in a seat a couple of rows in front of me. Both kids and parents alike seemed excited to start their Saturday morning with a live theater performance.

A cartoon-like backdrop hangs upstage, with a few clouds drawn in a sky and a clothesline of letters spelling out “Shel’s World.” The letters hanging from the clothesline are used in “Sesame Street” fashion throughout the piece to spell out the themes of work, play and love. Everyday objects, including a mop, a tennis racquet, a colander, a pail, spoons and a large cardboard box help to bring the whimsy of Silverstein to life on stage.

This is truly a show by kids and for kids (well, kids “ages 4-100,” as the promotional materials note). The cast is comprised of 6th- to 12th-graders and the assistant director, Mary Brothers, and lighting designer, Ian Bongard, are in high school (9th and 10th grade, respectively). All are part of the Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory.

The poster and promotional materials feature the artwork of 18 local elementary school students. The energetic and enthusiastic ensemble includes Ryan Smith, Lizzie Turner, Haley Lynch, Anna Webb, Adalynn Eller, Charlotte Pearl, Jackson Moyer, Emme Cannon, Layla Esch-Bickel and Josh Polk.

Kimmell explains, “The rehearsal process was a true workshop ... The show you see is a collaborative effort.” She seems to have truly embraced Silverstein’s messages, and the cast and production crew have heeded his advice: “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

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