A book published in 1972 with the unwieldly title – “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” – remains beloved to children and on school curricula.
Author Judith Viorst followed up with three sequels and wrote a play she based on the original “Alexander.”
With music by Shelly Markham and Viorst’s lyrics, “Alexander” is next on the agenda of Adventure Theatre MTC (Music Theatre Center).
Artistic director Michael Bobbitt met the author when he choreographed a musical of one of the Alexander stories the Kennedy Center developed.
“We stayed in touch,” Bobbitt said.
To Bobbitt, the Alexander books are popular because they look at the world from a child’s point of view.
“Kids’ problems may seem trivial to us, and the first Alexander book presents a series of them,” Bobbitt said. “You could write a full dramatic work about a kid trying to tie his shoelaces. When they do it, they want to share what they did, and adults often don’t have the time.”
Viorst herself was surprised at her book’s success.
“I had absolutely no idea I had written a children’s book that would turn out to be as hugely popular as ‘Alexander,’” she said. “I’ve been amazed, delighted, and thrilled by its continuing popularity, not only here but in countries all over the world.”
The many letters Viorst has received reflect a common theme: that when children have “a bad day,” they “seem to find comfort and connection in hearing they’re not the only one picked on by a malign fate.”
The author will hold a book signing on Feb. 10 at 12:30 p.m. It will be open to both the 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. performances for patrons who purchase a copy of the book, or any of its sequels.
Playing Alexander is 25-year-old Christian Montgomery, in his Adventure Theatre debut.
Although he’s been acting in D.C.-area theaters for only about four years, Montgomery said he’s been “performing in my mother’s living room” since he was seven.
“I love playing a child, mostly ‘cause it’s not far off from who I still am,” the actor said. “I still hope there’s a prize in my cereal box, I still hate going to the dentist, and I definitely still wish a chocolate sundae was a vegetable.”
This is also the first time Cara Gabriel, the play’s director, is working at Adventure Theatre, though she is a longtime audience member.
“I have two children, and we’ve been coming to shows here since my first was a baby,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel loves “Alexander” “for so many reasons,” she added. “Bill Yanesh’s new musical arrangements are absolutely wonderful, and the entire team is creative and collaborative … I’m also very excited to be directing something my children will be able to see and enjoy.”
The dramatization of the book, she added, shows the audience scenes that readers only get to hear about in the book.
One challenge is familiarity: Gabriel saw the show before, in a very good production.
“So, I want to make sure I breathe new life into it and bring this team’s unique strengths and creative gifts to the process,” she said.
For Montgomery, the toughest challenge is portraying a child through body language.
“So, I try to use some devices to help me get into that, like reminding myself that your body is still growing at that age, and you’re learning [about] it every day,” he said.
In all, Montgomery most appreciates the show’s message – “that sometimes we have bad days, and that’s OK. It’s an important lesson to teach, not just for young audiences,” he said.
“Alexander” runs Feb. 9 through March 31 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo. For more information, call the box office at 301-634-2270 or visit: www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org/seeashow/professional/nowshowing.html.
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