SALT LAKE CITY — Local actress Michelle Blake said her daughter still talks about seeing the regional premiere of “Busytown the Musical” at Utah Children’s Theatre eight years ago.
“She mentioned recently, ‘Oh, Mom, remember when the pickle car came out on the stage and it was zooming around and I reached out and I almost touched it?’” Blake recalled her now-14-year-old daughter saying enthusiastically. “If someone who’s a teenager could still be excited about something she saw when she was 6 or 7, then there’s something special about it.”
Based on children’s book author and illustrator Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?,” “Busytown the Musical” follows Huckle Cat as he visits people throughout his neighborhood learning what keeps everyone so busy. Since 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Scarry’s book, representatives from Utah Children’s Theatre, which will be staging the show Friday through Feb. 17, felt now was a great time to bring “Busytown” back to the stage.
“If you love the world of Richard Scarry, then you will love this show and the way, especially, that the scenic designs and the prop designs are translated onto the stage,” said Blake, a “Busytown” cast member. “You’ll feel like you’re in the book world of Richard Scarry.”
Scarry illustrated more than 150 books throughout his career, including titles such as “Busy, Busy Town,” “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” and Little Golden Books’ “Good Night, Little Bear” and “The Bunny Book." According to publisher Penguin Random House, more than 100 million copies of his books have been sold and many have never been out of print. In addition to books, Scarry’s characters also made their way to the television screen in the mid-’90s on “The Busy World of Richard Scarry.”
“(Richard Scarry is) not as well-known as Dr. Seuss, but (audiences) do know him,” said “Busytown” director Jennifer Parker Hohl. “When you say ‘Richard Scarry,’ it doesn’t ring a bell the same way, but (his stories) are so funny and so darling.”
Hohl and choreographer Marilyn May Montgomery, who led the production when it was first staged at UCT in 2010, are at the helm again and are joined by three of the original seven cast members, including Blake.
Hohl and Montgomery said the upcoming staging has many of the same elements as the 2010 production with a few tweaks to accommodate UCT’s new location — the theater company moved to the renovated Avalon Theater in South Salt Lake in 2012 — and the strengths of the various cast members.
According to Hohl, one of the best parts of the show that will remain is the cars that zoom on and off the stage — the element Blake’s daughter remembered. Hohl said one of the most iconic images from Scarry’s books is his character Lowly Worm riding in a car made out of an apple, which serves as inspiration for UCT’s staging. Two electric cars and several remote control cars will zoom and whiz across the stage, including a banana car, pickle car, fire engines and, of course, an apple car.
“It makes it really charming,” Hohl said. “It really is adorable.”
She said most of the cast members take on multiple “quirky characters” in the production, which can be as varied as a farmer or a construction worker or a pirate, as Huckle Cat and his friend Lowly Worm explore their town to learn what people do with their time.
“It just shows what goes on in a day,” Montgomery said. “There are so many different things that are going on. You think you live in your own little world, but there’s a whole bunch of people out there doing lots of different things. … (It’s important for kids) to know that the world is a big place.”
Blake and Hohl both said the show is geared toward children, but it has enough jokes for parents that “Busytown” can be enjoyed by audience members of all ages.Comment on this story
“It might be viewed as simple, old-fashioned stories,” Blake said, “but I think comparing when I was growing up in the early '80s (reading Scarry’s books) to when we first did it in 2010 to now in 2018 that the material stays enjoyable for kids. … Those simple tried-and-true things are still exciting.”
If you go …
What: Utah Children’s Theatre’s “Busytown the Musical”
Where: Utah Children’s Theatre, 3605 S. State St.
When: Jan. 19-Feb. 17, dates and times vary
How much: $16, group discounts available