HOUSTON -- The Children's Theatre Festival, a professional project of the University of Houston School of Theatre, has announced its 21st summer season. Unlike past bills, all three shows this year will be straight plays, one world premiere and two versions of beloved classics.
The world premiere is a fable in the making: Sidney Berger has penned The Greatest Love of All, a fast and "furry-ious" tale of a bear, a lion, and an elephant who venture out of their comfy home at the zoo to explore life in the big city. It will run June 5-19.
The two other plays revisit old favorites. Kristen Sergel's adaptation of Winnie the Pooh will run June 26 - July 12. William Glennon's version of Jack and the Beanstalk will run July 24 - Aug. 9.
The Children's Theatre Festival was co-founded by Berger, who functions as its producer. Since he picked his own play, one might be tempted to accuse him of hubris, and nepotism. But the prolific playwright has precedence. His rendition of The Little Match Girl, a musical written with Theo Fanidi and published by I E Clark, has been performed throughout the country in more than 50 productions. His interpretation of Rapunzel, also published by I E Clark, has been mounted by more than 20 companies.
And Berger just found out that this spring his fantasy The Star Stealer will be offered in translation in Guatemala. "I was told that the title would have to be changed a little bit," he recounted. "I'm not married to it, but I was curious as to why. Apparently it's not proper to refer to stealing in Guatemala. It's not appreciated in Guatemalan society. So now it will be called The Boy Who Wanted a Star." What's more, Berger is the director of the University of Houston School of Theatre, founder and producing director of the Houston Shakespeare Festival, an associate artist at the Alley Theatre, a regular guest director for Theater Under The Stars in Houston, former artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston, and a director of numerous USO-Defense Department tours. He's co-founder of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America and a board member of Sam Wanamaker's International Shakespeare Globe Centre project. He's a scholarly writer as well as playwright, a screenwriter, and a director for public television. So one can deduce he's a good judge of talent, even his own.
The Children's Theatre Festival only casts non-equity actors. "It's financially more feasible this way," Berger explained. "Also, it gives young people a chance to work professionally in the theater. And since its sister summer project is the Houston Shakespeare Festival, they can move on to it in a variety of roles."
More than 35,000 children and kids-at-heart attend the Children's Theatre Festival each summer season.
The Children's Theater Festival is located at the University of Houston School of Theatre. For information, call (713) 743-2929
-- By Peter Szatmary