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Review: The Hundred Dresses

Atlantic for Kids' new musical production shines a light on the dark heart of childhood teasing and the rocky road to redemption.

Ahron R. Foster

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Based on Eleanor Estes's Caldecott Honor--winning book of the same name, written in 1944, Atlantic for Kids' The Hundred Dresses is an emotional tour de force that takes on childhood prejudice, bullying, insecurity and the poignant awakening of conscience with sensitivity and panache. The second NYC kids' tuner in three months to take on the uncomfortable subject of schoolkids' sadism (the first was Vital Theatre Company's The Bully, which runs through February 26) looks on as a group of classmates turn their discomfort at the arrival of new kid Wanda Patronsky (a winsome and stoic Rebecca Schoffer), a recent immigrant from Poland, into derision. Two girls in particular, Peggy—nastiness incarnate, played fiestily by Jeanna Phillips—and her friend-subordinate, Maddie (a superb Stephanie Hsu), make a game of interrogating the heavily accented Wanda about the 100 dresses she proudly claims to have at home in her closet, though she wears the same dull dress to school each day and clearly lives on the wrong side of the tracks. While Peggy's vitriol seems practically inbred, Maddie's is born of insecurity: She goes along for the ride, following Peggy's lead for fear of losing her friendship. But with time she becomes queasy at her own inability to stand up to her friend and put an end to the game.

Staged on a spare, beautifully lit set, the production is at once historically believable and completely relevant, thanks to poignant, sometimes funny songs, excellent ensemble acting, and the original plot's unexpected twists and turns. It takes guts to put on a play without a completely happy ending, but to do so in a way that is nonetheless plenty appealing to kids is rather breathtaking. By the time Maddie, Peggy et. al take in the spectacle of those beautiful dresses, nothing will ever quite be the same again. Peter Norton Space. Sat, Sun at 10:30am. Through March 11. $20, children under 13 $10. Ages 6 to 13.

Dir. Alison Beatty. 2012. 70 mins. A musical by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills based on the book by Eleanor Estes. Lighting and scenic design by Dave Evansohn. David Bernstein, Janna Emig, Kim Fischer, Stephanie Hsu, Daniel Johnsen, Jeanna Phillips, Marisa Parry, Rebecca Schoffer.

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