At its best, family theater is exuberant and engaging for all family members from young to old. It avoids the saccharine or the too-obvious puns. While it is a tricky balance to maintain, this is what “Legend of Banbury Cross” brought to the Lesher Center for the Arts for a run from Oct. 11 to 13. Though there were some low-hanging Humpty Dumpty puns to be had, it was overall an enjoyable theatrical experience for all.
Tucked into the downtown area of Walnut Creek at the Lesher, the show was mostly attended by families and was the definition of family-friendly: quick-paced, colorful and with occasional musical interludes. Running at a crisp 50 minutes, the play was billed “for younger audiences, and those young at heart,” and appealed to this demographic wholeheartedly.
The play’s story was an well-trodden narrative of various fairy tale characters coming together to solve a problem, in the vein of such mashups as “Shrek” or the Broadway classic “Into the Woods.” While the story itself wasn’t anything new thematically, it was the perfect fit for the young audience it was geared toward.
With Mother Goose as narrator, the show follows such fairy tale staples as Little Bo Peep, Jack (of Jack and Jill) and the three little pigs as they rally around the woman who lived in a shoe, who is being forced out of her home (the shoe) because of exorbitant rents put forth by her villainous landlord. Hijinks ensue, and all come together to help the woman who lived in a shoe stay in Banbury Cross.
The show is a product of the Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble, a local troupe that primarily focuses on fairy tale-adjacent shows. Each character hit the mark, with sufficient exuberance to do justice to the source material and engage the audience members. That said, the cast made sure to incorporate the audience in various parts of the show — there were also a number of kids who were able to sit onstage to see the action firsthand.
The production was also given dynamism by audience participation and use of theater beyond the stage and set. At the close of numerous scenes, one or more of the characters would exit by leaving the stage and walking through the aisles, continuing their dialogue. This directorial choice brought a nice sense of immersiveness and also helped expand the stage beyond its relatively small confines.
“Legend of Banbury Cross” was a perfect weekend escape, timed out well and with enthusiastic performances. The Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble put on a lively show and, like the show itself, achieved a happy ending.