“Community” is one of the first words that come to mind as the original Garden Players production, “We Are Monsters” is about to begin. With Betina Hershey Russo at the helm of the GPs as artistic director, producer, director, choreographer, lyricist, writer, and teacher, the Garden Players continue to flourish. What Hershey Russo admittedly undertook as an experiment seven years ago has now become not only an intrepid adventure of creating an annual full scale original musical for kids, but for Hershey Russo it has also become her “home”.
This home created together by Hershey Russo and her long time collaborator/co-writer/composer/music director, and fellow teacher Denver Casado, and, of course, the kids, has never been more apparent than in “We Are Monsters”. Hershey Russo and Casado work carefully to cultivate each actor’s unique talents, creating their roles with specific children in mind. And GP shows are never without a dash of social commentary; all the more hilarious, and poignant, when coming from children playing square-dancing werewolves, mummies who are afraid of the dark, corpse brides lamenting their “almost husbands”, a three-headed monster that is a “clique of 2”, and vegetarian vampires. And, of course, a handful of humans disguised as monsters.
The personality prize goes to the vampires, who try not to show their thirst for blood as they sing the praises of vegetables, belting out their song “We Love Lettuce”. While the vampires get hungry when they sense the presence of “true human blood”, they don’t indulge on the advice of their therapists. Later in the show the vampires lament their fangs always getting in the way as they consider “fang enhancements”.
And where else but in a GP show will mummies sing a jazzy tune as they divulge their fear of darkness? Corpse brides sing six-part harmonies about their lost loves, werewolves show off their howling chops with abandon and obvious fun in their “Howl-Off”. The three-headed monster paid homage to vaudevillian humor, singing tight three-part harmonies while joined at the hips, and the lonely Oozy Lumpa sang a heartfelt power ballad as actress Kelsy Hor sings her swan song after growing up a Garden Player. The showstopper of the night was “Stand Up and Fight”, as all 59 monsters expressed their horror to learn that actual humans were in the audience.
And let’s not forget the expedition crew of five humans in disguise who learn about, and potentially reveal, monster secrets, in spite of werewolf allergies and secret monster friendships. In the end, humans and monsters come together to honor their differences and appreciate their similarities. Or did they? Hershey Russo and Casado end the show on a high note but with an ironic twist, as we never truly know whether the humans’ motives changed, humans being tricky as they are.
Only the creators know what’s in store for next year’s show, a “Monsters” sequel, perhaps? Whatever it may be, audiences can be assured that it will be priceless for its wit and charm, social commentary, life lessons, and for Hershey Russo and professional musician and resident GP band member Nick Russo, maybe even a touch of observations on new parenthood. As Hershey has said, with the Garden Players, she has come home. Photos Yolanta Perkins