Lending human attributes to animals is as old as Aesop. Fables aside, the tradition is also incredibly varied. Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat grins with puzzled mystery. Kenneth Grahame's pond-side creatures take us inside their hearts and minds.
With her 2001 Caldecott Honor-winning book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, children's author Doreen Cronin found a sweet-spot between Grahame and George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Unhappy with the temperature of their barn, Cronin's cows decided to take a stand, and get behind a typewriter. In gentle, but insistent terms, the cows made it clear to Farmer Brown that they expect better living and working conditions in exchange for all the milk they provide.
It's a story about standing up for your rights, proper treatment of animals, and the sometimes tense back-and-forth of compromise. It's all about that, but also so much more, according to Salt Lake Acting Company's cast and crew for the stage musical adaptation.
"It boasts eight big songs, a disco-ball moment, and a terrific tap-dance number. And it's all inside a barn," said Darrin Doman, self-dubbed "moosical director" for the play. "What could be better?"
At the same time, SLAC won't shy from the play's subversive message. It's the fourth installment in SLAC's annual children's play for the holiday season, opening Dec. 14 and playing through Jan. 5. The story something to say about the nature of demands, compromise and negotiation in our age of no-holds-barred battles between the U.S. Congress and President. The fact that SLAC's cast of grown adults will be sporting cow, hen and duck costumes doesn't mask its oft-times clinical terms such as "neutral party" and "ultimatum."
"It's our way of creating little new rebels in the audience," said Penelope Caywood, director and choreographer. "Cronin's books are all a little irreverent and question authority. We're sticking to that idea in bringing the book to life, and having a little fun with it."
SLAC is proud of not cutting corners for its children's productions by hiring a professional crew and cast.
"We attack this the same we would any role for an older audience," said Camille Van Wagoner, who plays one of the cows. "These may be children's characters, but you still draw from all your experiences as an adult actor in getting it right."
This year, the company's going "all in" on efforts to bring "Click Clack Moo" to the larger Salt Lake Valley community. Intermountain Therapy Animals will be in-house during Saturday and Sunday performances, bringing animals to interact with children in the audience. Title 1 schools will be offered free performances for grades K-2, with discussions with the actors following each performance. In addition, the Salt Lake Education Foundation will accept art supply and monetary donations in the lobby.
"Performing for kids is not as easy as it looks or sounds," Caywood said. "Their eyes are bigger, and they're sometimes taking in every detail because they haven't been to the theater as often as adults."
In their quest for Farmer Brown to provide electric blankets, a demand that soon ripples throughout the barnyard, the cows of Cronin's tale point the way in how to communicate peacefully, but clearly. As in all good drama, though, there are moments when tempers flare. The song "We Will Fight" manifests that sentiment through a key lyric: "Tame those hurried, angry thoughts that lead to violent measure."
Doman said the music, written by George Howe for James Grote's adaptation, is ripe with jazzy, cross-genre harmonies that make for smooth singing. For parents, the musical has inside references to "Les MisÃ©rables," disco music, and other novelty touches.
Don't worry if your children don't at first grasp Cronin's terms as the story and songs progress over the course of the show. "Kids have a hard time understanding words only when they're never exposed to them," Van Wagoner said. "They'll understand given the context and the fun."
Salt Lake Acting Company presents a musical adaptation of the children's book Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type.
When • Dec. 14-Jan. 5. Friday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 15 noon and 3 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 16, noon and 3 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 21, 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 22, 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 23, noon and 3 p.m.; Thursday, Dec. 27, noon and 3 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 28, noon and 3 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 29, 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 30, noon and 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, Jan. 2-4, noon and 3 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 5, 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10-$25. Call 801-363-7522 or visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org