By: Dakota Tibbetts, Design Director
A one-act musical theater show meant for children with a cast full of college-aged students sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. For the University of Southern Maine’s Department of Theater and School of Music though, it was a recipe for greatness. Their musical offering for the 2019-2020 season was “Dear Edwina”, a one-hour long ensemble piece directed by Joyce A. Presutti and musically directed by Edward Reichert.
The show features a book written by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich, both of whom previously collaborated on “Junie B. Jones the Musical”. USM’s production starred freshman musical theater major Ciara Neidlinger as Edwina.
“Dear Edwina” sees the titular character, 13-year old Edwina Spoonapple, directing and starring in “The Dear Edwina Show”, a poorly-attended production that she puts on weekly from her garage in order to present musical advice to the population of Paw Paw, Michigan. She yearns to prove herself to her highly successful family by chasing her dream of being invited to the Kalamazoo Advice-a-Palooza. The show is full of fun musical numbers, family-friendly lessons, and the message that it doesn’t matter if you get your name on the fridge as long as you’re doing what you love.
The majority of “Dear Edwina” has a set format: a character seeks guidance by singing out a problem from a letter; Edwina and the rest of the cast offer a valuable piece of advice for that problem, in song, of course. This provides a brilliant ensemble production that allows every cast member to have their chance in the spotlight. Brightly colored costumes, fun props, and silly stories presented a big challenge to this group of college-aged professionals, but the rich personalities in the cast performed brilliantly. Each cast member got their own spot in one of the silly advice tunes, including Victoria Stackpole as the Queen of Boola Boola, Molly K. Scott as Fairy Forkmother, and Brandon Wong as Uncle Vladimir, in songs about being polite, setting the table, and not acting obnoxiously.
No performer was off stage for very long, and when they were, it was to give time for an endearing ballad performed by Edwina herself. A particular stand-out moment for Neidlinger was the penultimate number “Sing Your Own Song”, which Edwina sings to her sister after being bullied out of her love for math. While Edwina is meant to be a bubbly, aspirational young girl, Neidlinger made the character her own by bringing serious undertones to an otherwise entirely playful show. This makes the character stand out and reinforces the message behind the story.
The production of “Dear Edwina” was a professional take on a family-friendly show that could leave young children and theater snobs alike with songs stuck in their heads for weeks.