SALT LAKE CITY — Local actress Michelle Blake stated 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 got out on the stage and it was zooming around and I reached out and I almost touched it?'” Blake remembered her now-14-year-old daughter saying enthusiastically. “If someone who’s a teenager can still be excited about something she saw when she was 6 or 7, then there’s something main 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, that will be staging the show Friday over Feb. 17, felt now was a fantastic 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,” stated Blake, a “Busytown” presented member. “You’ll consider 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 multiple have never been out of print. In addition to books, Scarry’s characters further 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 fathom him,” stated “Busytown” director Jennifer Parker Hohl. “When you assert ‘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 presented members, including Blake.
Hohl and Montgomery stated the upcoming staging has multiple 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 presented 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 stated one of the best iconic images from Scarry’s books is his character Lowly Worm riding in a car made out of an apple, that serves as inspiration for UCT’s staging. Two electric cars and several remote control cars will zoom and whiz over the stage, including a banana car, pickle car, fire engines and, of course, an apple car.
“It makes it honestly charming,” Hohl said. “It honestly is adorable.”
She stated best of the presented members take on multiple “quirky characters” in the production, that 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 merely shows what goes on in a day,” Montgomery said. “There are so multiple dissimilar stuff 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 dissimilar things. … (It’s important for kids) to fathom that the world is a fantastic place.”
Blake and Hohl both stated the show is geared approaching children, but it has enough jokes for parents that “Busytown” can be enjoyed by audience members of all ages.
“It might be viewed as simple, old-fashioned stories,” Blake said, “but I think comparing when I was growing up in the fresh ’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 stuff 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