Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
That Wonder Boy
If, on the other hand, you would enjoy 90 minutes or so of sheer delight, connecting through a piece of theater with the things in your own life that lend meaning and bring joy, you should also stop readingand pick up the phone to get a ticket for That Wonder Boy while you still have the chance.
Bob Stromberg is one of the three manically witty fellas who created the long-running Triple Espresso. His one-fella show, That Wonder Boy, is an exploration of how he overcame the drawbacks of a happy childhood, a well-functioning family, and a community that supported one another to forge a successful career in the artswhich, as his college theater professor archly pointed out, requires a life of suffering, something Stromberg seemed to know nothing about.
Couched in the context of a comedy about Wonder Boy, a space-baby who landed on earth in a silver capsule, crashing right through the roof of a weathered barn in West Virginia, Stromberg cuts himself short, unable to focus on his portrayal of the title character. The cause of his distraction is a harsh review by an online theater critic (who are those guys, anyway?) that is eating away at him. Stromberg, after all, is so darn nice a guyand that critic, so mean. Like, did she have to say "Stromberg is real comedy like Taco Bell is real Mexican"?
From here, we are treated to Stromberg's narration of how he came into his chosen profession: growing up in an art-deficient rural Pennsylvania town, where small but potent experiences injected him with the power of art. We learn about his early forays into musicfirst accordion lessons, then on to the guitar, and especially his beloved music teacher Miss Nagle. We learn about his first crush, the romance of summer camp, about his college days, followed by training in mime school, complete with a demonstration. We also learn a lot about Stromberg's dad whose dictum in life, "Walk it off!," may have turned out to be pretty good advice after all.
One long story describes an elementary school music concert, perfectly depicted down to the lousy feedback impaired school sound system, that is both heartily funny and warmly tender in demonstrating the care and support that permeated Stromberg's early life. We are subject to so much in theater (film, novels, you name it) that helps us see the dark and seamy side of life, and sure, there are things to learn there, but how great it is to learn from an example of life being lived by people who always have the best intentions and who actually care for their neighbors, let alone their family.
Toward the end of the show, Stromberg shares his dad's collection of Carousel slide shows, narrating the series of poorly framed, double-exposed, and badly lit shots with both sharp wit and clear affection. Hey, laughter doesn't have to be mean. We can laugh and love at the same timewhat a great concept!
Stromberg performs with the stumbling, self-deprecating manner of Bob Newhart. He puts the audience at ease, and draws us in to want to listen. The show provides him with great technical back-upa constantly changing screen-show artfully illustrating the chapters of his life, as well as those family slides, both wacky and priceless. Music and soundprovided by one of Stromberg's Triple Espresso teammates, Michael Pearce Donleyprovides a constant aural background, with music matched to the time and feel of each anecdote, and soundsa summer storm, the crackle of a campfire, the sitar sounds of a 1970 college dorm.
A delightfully snarky video by Nancy Heath opens the show, with an interview with the Wonder Boy whose comic saga was supposedly to be the gist of the program, and "rediscovered footage" of Wonder Boy's hayseed father. The video sets a tone that says we are in for a lot of fun. The video can be viewed at www.thatwonderboy.com.
That Wonder Boy is a gentle entertainment that had me laughing outwardly and smiling inwardly. The fun is at no one's expense. It does not make anyone else seem small, but instead earns its laughs by showing the capacity of the human heart to be quite large.
That Wonder Boy continues through April 5, 2015, at The Music Box Theatre, 1407 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets: $31.00 - $36.00; children and students with valid ID, - $12.00. For tickets call 612-874-1100 or go to musicboxmpls.com.
Writer: Bob Stromberg; Director: Risa Brainin; Scenic and Costume Design: Nayna Ramey; Lighting Design and Production Manager: Michael Klaers; Music and Soundscape: Michael Pearce Donley; Technical Sound Design: John Markiewicz; Opening Video: Nancy Heath; Stage Managers: Benjamin Netzley, Joelle Coutu; Production Assistant: Chelsea Babcock; Executive Producer: Dennis Babcock; Associate Producer: Rosalie Miller
Cast: Bob Stromberg as himself