The arrival of all-things-pumpkin-spiced signifies the beginning of fall.
But at Weehawken Arts, it’s “The Pumpkin King” that heralds autumn’s return. A theatrical adaptation of the smash animated film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” ‘Pumpkin King” gets its title from Jack Skellington, a bored skeleton (and the lead character) of Tim Burton’s droll mash-up that both celebrates, and skewers, the Christmas and Halloween traditions. In addition to Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, Master of Ceremonies of Halloween Town’s annual celebration, the movie’s cast — and the theatrical reimagining by director Kathleen O’Mara that will take place, in the Sherbino Theater — includes a barely-stitched-together rag doll named Sally, a thieving trio dubbed Lock, Shock, and Barrel, Zero the ghost dog, and a bogeyman (one Oogie Boogie).
The play is rollicking enough; an additional part of the fun lies in the casting.
“Kathleen takes the theme and custom-tailors it to the kids, and their skill-sets,” said Trish Oakland, programs coordinator for Weehawken Arts and the Sherbino. Once she has the human particulars nailed, O’Mara then pares the performance “down to a reasonable time frame” for it to unfurl as a musical which will be staged in early November.
“We can accommodate a cast of up to 30 on the Sherb’s stage,” Oakland said. Ages 7-18 (which is to say, kids from pretty much every grade) will be invited to perform. Seven-to-nine-year-olds will rehearse two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while kids up to age 18 will rehearse twice that long: on Monday through Thursday. Not only will they be re-creating a beloved movie musical that is a little creepy and a little hilarious with a sweet love story at its center — they’ll get full-on exposure to the world of the theater. “Students participating will experience a full audition, rehearsal and production process,” a description of this course explains, with a curriculum that includes “voice, physicality, stage presence, and design elements including stage, costume and publicity.”
‘Polar Express’ Returns
‘Pumpkin King’ is but one of two musicals Weehawken is prepping for the coming months: a great variety of dance classes, for ages two to 18, are also beginning with an ultimate goal: the reenactment of yet another holiday classic with something for both kids and adults. This one’s from the book by Chris Von Allsburg, which was also a movie starring Tom Hanks titled “The Polar Express.” Choreographed each holiday season by Weehawken Dance’s artistic director Natasha Pyeatte, the performance features a cast of over 200 dancers from numerous disciplines — tap, jazz, ballet, even aerial silks — at the Montrose Pavilion come December. “Polar Express is super creative,” Oakland said. “Natasha’s done a phenomenal job of incorporating tap, and jazz, and hip-hop and aerial silks” into one seamless production. “We have kids who drive over for rehearsals each week from Paonia, Cedaredge and Hotchkiss” (as well as from places you might expect, such as Ridgway, Telluride and Montrose). Oakland said. The performers are passionate: “We even have cast members who drive over a couple of times a week from Silverton for rehearsals.” Imagine driving over Red Mountain Pass in rain, and, as the season changes, occasional — and variable — icy, snowy conditions, and you begin to appreciate their level of determination to dance with Pyeatte.
“They’re committed!” Oakland said. “You can feel a shift in the air. We’re into fall!”
Rehearsals begin for The Pumpkin King on Monday, Sept. 13. Dance classes that culminate in a performance of “Polar Express” at the Montrose Pavilion remain open until Sept. 17. To learn more, or to register, visit weehawkenarts.org and sherbino.org.