BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
“Mama says to me, ‘My dear daughter, your body is made out of food and water.’”
Eleven-year-old Maddie sings this line in The Birthday Feast, Cardinal Stage Company’s first-ever commissioned play and world premiere, written by acclaimed Bloomington author Scott Russell Sanders. With lively music by local composer Alex Crowley, the new children’s musical playfully explores questions about nutrition, food sources, and the place food holds in our lives.
“First and foremost, I wanted to entertain children and their parents or grandparents by telling an engaging story, with humor and adventure and fun,” says Sanders. “But I also wanted to invite audiences to think about food — where it comes from, how it is prepared for eating, how it might be shared. So I introduced a garden, a farmers’ market, cooking with raw ingredients, a critique of junk food, and other elements in an effort to foster conversations and reflections.”
The play centers on Maddie’s plans to prepare a surprise birthday meal for her mother. Together with two friends and her dog, Mutt, Maddie travels around town to gather ingredients. Their adventures include a messy onstage cooking session and a musical showdown with “Junk Food” Jack over the merits of processed foods.
“We don’t want to whack kids over the head with the message, ‘Eat your veggies,’” says Randy White, Cardinal’s artistic director, who worked with Sanders and other members of Cardinal’s creative team to conceive and develop the script. “We’re just hoping we can plant little seeds of ideas that will stick in kids’ minds and encourage them to think about food choices.”
White is also excited about the play’s potential life beyond Bloomington. “We’re introducing a new work into the world that we feel has value and meaning for this community and for others,” he says. “This is our first opportunity to bring Cardinal out into the wider American theater world, and the prospect of introducing ourselves through The Birthday Feast is absolutely thrilling.”
Cardinal’s production of the musical is part of Indiana University’s 2014 Themester, “Eat, Drink, Think: Food from Art to Science.” The Birthday Feast premieres at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center on October 10 and runs through October 25. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 812-336-9300 or visit Cardinal online.