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'Just So' capitalizes on characters' charm

The Baltimore Sun

Jungle plants extend off the stage, reaching toward the audience. An African drum beat sounds, and a story of the beginning of the world begins, "My Best Beloved." Armed with creativity and charm, Glenelg Country School last week pulled the audience into the magical African world of Just So.

Based on Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories," the performance combines Kipling's stories in one musical. In the beginning of the world, the Eldest Magician created all the animals, only to realize that they are all the same. So he sends them on journeys to discover their individuality. The main story is about Pau Amma, a rebellious crab who plays with the sea, making everyone else's life miserable. The Elephant's Child decides to go on a journey to politely ask him to stop. Along the way, he meets other characters and learns of their stories.

An endearing element was the actors' embodiment of their animal characters, whether stomping, strutting or scuttling around the stage. The choreography by Emma Murphy took full advantage of the actors' flexibility, resulting in a graceful zoo onstage.

Danny Goldstein, as The Eldest Magician, was wise, calm and authoritative as he oversaw his creation. Ethan Franz as Elephant's Child gave a sweetly inquisitive performance, always in touch with his inner child. As the Elephant's wise-cracking guide, the Kolokolo Bird, Sarah Goldstein was tough and sarcastic, yet when called for, as sympathetic as a bird that can't fly.

What made Just So lively were the colorful characters, figuratively and literally. Some of the more memorable performances were Parsee the eccentric chef, played with manic zeal by Shreyo Banerjee, and Ryan Kennedy as Parsee's one true love -- the Cooking Stove. Also stealing scenes were the cockney-gangster Jaguar and Leopard (Kelson McAuliffe and Collin Lyons, respectively) who wish to take Giraffe and Zebra "out to dinner."

Complementing the actors' performances were the stellar costumes and makeup. The costumes were not simply animal guises, but rather human attire representing the personality of the characters. Each character's makeup and hair (designed by Sarah Goldstein and Sarabeth Kelly) were unique and fitting of their various creatures. The lighting, by Hillary Berry, was marvelous, with spotlights and background colors, to invoke mood or to illustrate different settings in the story.

As homage to the author, the actors spoke in a British accent, switching back to American English at times. Any acting inconsistencies were covered up in consistent charisma. Glenelg's production of Just So was just so charming to the last.

Nancy Erickson, a student at Long Reach High School, reviewed "Just So" for the Cappies of Baltimore, a program in which students review high school productions under the direction of their teachers and vote on awards for outstanding performances.

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