Theatre Information

Virginia Repertory Theatre Richard Scarry’s Busytown

By • Jul 8th, 2013 • Category: Reviews, Virginia
Richard Scarry’s Busytown
Virginia Repertory Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Virginia Rep Center – Willow Lawn Through July 28th
1:00, without intermission
Reviewed July 5th, 2013

A good children’s play entertains the kiddies. A great one also amuses their parents.

Busytown meets that criterion. Adapted from Richard Scarry’s popular children’s books, the musical brings familiar characters to life in a fun, cheerful production staged by Virginia Repertory Theatre for its Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn season. The show, with music by Michael Koerner and book by Kevin Kling, breezes by at precisely the right length — one hour — which is long enough to pack in plenty of Busytown antics without overstaying its welcome. It’s not long, but it’s indeed busy, with lots of clever bits of business along the way.

The ensemble cast is fantastic. You’ll believe an actor can become a cartoon character.

Dan Cimo plays young Huckle, essentially our viewpoint character who’s trying to find his place in Busytown, and the rest of the cast takes on an assortment of roles. PJ Freeborn, Allison Gilman, Michael Brown, Jessi Johnson, and Jan Guarino each bring their own brand of animated exuberance to the proceedings.

Guarino doesn’t just act, sing, and dance. She also directed and choreographed the production. Apparently, being a triple threat wasn’t enough. She excels in all roles, as this very physical show remains in constant motion, never losing the attention of the little ones. Everyone involved maintains the necessary enthusiasm to charm the audience from start to finish.

The main plot involves preparations for Grandma Bear’s birthday (she’s turning over 30!) while Huckle tries to be helpful. However, the show is basically a string of humorous, inventive episodes.

Freeborn’s Lowly Worm is a highlight. The actor serves as the puppeteer for the long, thin, and mostly mute worm, though he goes a step farther by providing his own animated facial expressions to convey the puppet’s reactions to events. He nails the character without saying a word. And a worm puppet, it seems, provides numerous opportunities for excellent physical comedy.

Johnson’s Nurse Nellie takes a hilarious interest in Lowly Worm following an injury, which is tended to by Gilman’s Doctor Lion in a terrific scene full of wonderful interplay between the performers.

Brown gives us another treat with his portrayal of Captain Salty — a pirate whose favorite letter is the one that comes after Q. His crew (Gilman, Johnson, and Guarino) is a delight.

Creativity is all over the place in Busytown — in a construction ballet, in the slow-motion eating of over-risen bread, and even in a house fire that also sneaks in a safety message.

Lynn West’s costume designs clearly suggest the various animal characters without burdening the actors with bulky masks. Ears, hair, and hats help them become the characters, and their expressive faces remain free.

Chase Kniffen provides a set design worthy of a picture book. It’s vibrant, colorful, and feels like a character in its own right. Even the stage floor shows painted grass, bushes, roads, and railroad tracks. The Willow Lawn theater space is fully utilized.

Busytown is the perfect outing for families with small children. Older kids might fancy themselves too mature for such a show, but preschoolers and early elementary school students will be delighted. The opening night kids were certainly laughing and bopping to the music quite a bit.

And the grown-ups seemed to have a great time, too.

Photo Gallery

Lowly Worm Jan Guarino, Allison Gilman, Jessi Johnson, Dan Cimo, PJ Freeborn, and Michael Brown
Lowly Worm
Jan Guarino, Allison Gilman, Jessi Johnson, Dan Cimo, PJ Freeborn, and Michael Brown

Photos by Jay Paul


  • Dan Cimo: Huckle
  • PJ Freeborn: Lowly Worm, Blacksmith Fox, Construction Worker, Fire Chief, Able Baker Charlie
  • Allison Gilman: Farmer Alfalfa, Jason the Mason, Doctor Lion, Train the Dog, Grandma Bear, Pirate
  • Michael Brown: Sergeant Murphy, Dig Pig, Captain Salty, Humperdink
  • Jessi Johnson: Grocer Cat, Sawdust Carpenter, Postman, Nurse Nellie, Pirate
  • Jan Guarino: Betsy Bear, Stitches, Pirate


  • Adapted for the stage by Kevin Kling from the book “What Do People Do All Day” by Richard Scarry
  • Lyrics by Kevin Kling & Michael Koerner
  • Music by Michael Koerner
  • Set Design: Chase Kniffen
  • Light Design: K. Jenna Ferree
  • Costume Design: Lynn West
  • Stage Management: Kate Belleman
  • Musical Direction: Paul Deiss
  • Direction & Choreography: Jan Guarino

Disclaimer: Virginia Repertory Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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