By Jody Key — Managing Editor — July 3, 2019
If you’ve visited the High Museum recently, you’ve seen an exhibit entitled “The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s books for children”. This exhibit celebrates the culmination of Kalman’s 30 year body of work. In collaboration with this colorful exhibit, The Alliance Theatre has commissioned Liz Diamond, who chairs the Directing M.F.A. program at the Yale School of Drama, to adapt and direct Maira Kalman’s book MAX MAKES A MILLION to the stage. The result is a play with amazing acting, marvelous music, cute choreo and costumes, and terrific technical elements. While MAX is a considered a children’s play, it’s one adults won’t want to miss.
The story is narrated by Max, a dog living in New York City who writes beat poetry and wishes to go to Paris. He lives with an eccentric childless couple and works in a studio with Bruno, who paints invisible paintings. Max would like to sell his poems and got to Paris, but no one will buy them. So Max contents himself to live in NYC — a jumping jazzy city. This show allows the characters in this celebrated children’s book to leap off the page and come to life. With a cast of 5 who expertly play multiple characters with numerous costume changes, highly colorful and creative projections that fill the stage and make you feel as if you’ve actually stepped into the story book, and a band that sets the tone with jazzy beat music imagined by Grammy Award winning Justin Ellington, this debut is a delightful diversion set in the intimate space of the Hertz Stage.
Kudos to the entire production staff for capturing the essence of Kalman’s work from the scenic design and projections by Louisa Thompson and Mike Tutaj, to the numerous costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar. In addition, Eric Baumgartner’s music direction paired with Emily Coats choreography punctuates the show and adds elements of whimsy, hustle bustle, and sheer fun.
Ann Marie Gideon as Max carries the show with an effortless performance, which isn’t as easy as she makes it seem since she spends the entire show on stage. She’s a delight to watch as she unfolds this lovable character’s life, wishes and desires.
The rest of the ensemble are kept on their toes as they appear in and out of scenes in Max’s world as multiple characters with numerous costume changes. It would be interesting to see what happens backstage during this fast-paced show. Each ensemble member plays their parts expertly. Especially enjoyable was Tony Manna’s Morris and Baby Henry, Diany Rodriguez’s Ida, Thomas Neal Antwon Ghant’s Bruno, and Shelli Delgado’s elevator operator, Marlene, and the Queen of Sheba.
While MAX is an enjoyable show for kids, it has a sophistication that is a feast for the adult palate. This show is a definate Key-noteworthy must see for the whole family.
MAX MAKES A MILLION plays at the Alliance Hertz Stage until July 21st. Tickets can be purchased at https://alliancetheatre.org/production/2019-20/max-makes-a-million