Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Ellie Evans, Kylan Chait, and Janaysha Garcia
Photo by Jenny Kaufman/Xposed Capture Photography
Sometimes, plays with messages that are aimed at young audiences can also remind adults of vital life lessons. Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical, which is based on the successful book series by Joe Troiano and the animated special of the same name, focuses on the simple messages that we should treat people who are different than us the same way we treat those who are like us and that sometimes the things that make you different can also be used to help others. With a talented cast and clear direction, Valley Youth Theatre is presenting a winning production of this sweet, family-friendly musical.

The plot is fairly simple. Set in the Holiday Hill Farm right before Halloween, a group of pumpkins vie to be named the Pick of the Patch by Farmer Hill. In the running are the slightly self-centered Bobo, who claims to be perfectly round, and Big Tom and Little Tom, who are attached by a vine. However, they are shocked to discover that a square pumpkin named Spookley is also in their patch.

At first, Spookley struggles to fit in as he's ridiculed for being different and shunned by some of his fellow pumpkins; he even wonders if running away from the farm would be better off for everyone. Fortunately, a trio of spiders and Jack, the friendly scarecrow, make Spookley realize that he deserves to be in the patch with the rest of the pumpkins and be eligible to be the Pick of the Patch this season. When a big storm blows through the farm, Spookley also finds out that his square shape can be quite helpful and that while you may be judged by the way you look, it's also important to remember to never give up.

Joe Troiano wrote the book and lyrics for the musical, so you know they are in line with the beloved characters and situations in his youth books. While his lyrics and the music by Jeffrey Zahn may not deliver many memorable tunes that you'll find yourself humming days later, the songs are all short and sweet and also work well to deliver the characters' thoughts and feelings or to advance the plot.

Bobb Cooper always seems to find the perfect actors for the shows that Valley Youth Theatre presents and the cast this is no exception, even though he has some actresses playing male characters and they are also all controlling puppets while they are acting and singing. Janaysha Garcia is lovely as the doubting Spookley, who also finds his confidence needs a boost. Garcia's singing voice is pure and strong and her two solos, "If I Was Round" and "I'm Gonna Try," along with her sunny disposition, has the audience continually rooting for Spookley to succeed.

As Little Tom and Big Tom, Ellie Evans and Kylan Chait are fun and humorous. While Little Tom is the one who has the most issues with Spookley being in the same patch as the other pumpkins, Evans has a tight control on her character and perfect comic timing that gets big laughs. With athletic and rubbery dance moves that give a wonderful sense that he's actually made of straw, Jeremy Wood is bright and winning as Jack Scarecrow. Olivia Fearey is funny and charming, with a warm singing voice, as the slightly conceited Bobo. The rest of the cast include Oliver Christie, Bryn Gibson, and Chloe Jean Minaker as the trio of spiders named Edgar, Allen, and Poe, who befriend Spookley, and Autumn Stanley and Petra Milan Danek as a pair of melons who just happen to be in the same patch as the pumpkins.

Cooper's staging works quite well with the cast often sitting on rolling chairs, which helps them quickly move around the set as their puppet characters move from one part of the pumpkin patch to another. The cast all do well on the show's dozen songs, with singing voices that are bright and clear under Mark Fearey and Tyler Thompson's music direction, and their puppeteering skills are quite good. The puppets, designed by James Kemp of James Kemp Puppets specifically for this production, are colorful and creative. The combination of Dori Brown's bright set design and Dawson Buckholz's rich and warm lighting delivers many lovely Autumn-hued stage images. Karol Cooper's costumes are fairly simple but work well, since most of the cast are wearing matching overalls to have them blend in and let their puppets be the focus. The sound design by Tom Holmberg is clear with some nice sound effects.

While Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical is mainly aimed at younger children, it still proves to be a a lovey way for children and families to celebrate the change in weather and get excited for Halloween while also learning some simple basic life lessons in the process.

Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical runs through October 30, 2022, at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street, Phoenix AZ. For ticket and information, please visit or call 602 253-8188.

Book and Lyrics by Joe Troiano
Music Composed and Arranged by Jeffrey Zahn
Director: Bobb Cooper
Musical Co-Direction: Mark Fearey & Tyler Thompson
Puppets by James Kemp of James Kemp Puppets
Set Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Dawson Buckholz
Sound Design: Tom Holmberg
Production Stage Manager: Morgan McCall

Spookley the Square Pumpkin: Janaysha Garcia
Jack Scarecrow: Jeremy Wood
Big Tom: Kylan Chait
Little Tom: Ellie Evans
Bobo: Olivia Fearey
Mimi: Autumn Stanley
Lala: Petra Milan Danek
Edgar & Russell: Oliver Christie
Allen & Didi: Bryn Gibson
Poe & Autumn: Chloe Jean Minaker