Austin Zumbro Creates Layers of Fun
by Rosa del Duca
As a parent, I’m constantly thinking about how my toddler is interpreting her experiences. Often, she comes up with drastically different conclusions than my own. At Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s latest hit musical “Llama Llama Live!” I couldn’t keep from giggling at how 3-year-old Itasca was taking away a much different narrative than I was.
Austin Zumbro’s writing and musicality shine particularly bright in this production, and director Marty Johnson brings it all together in a musical that stands out as one of my favorites.
We first meet Baby Llama (kooky, energetic, endearing Kris Anthony Williams) when he runs in his bedroom from the bath, and searches wildly for his favorite red pajamas. He tears through drawers, “Where is it, where is it?” scattering clothes like a tornado. To Itasca, this is a perfectly normal way to look for pajamas. To me, it’s a reminder of how many times I’ve tried to head off this very same mess.
Mama Llama (warm, maternal Sheila Townsend) is close on her son’s heels to explain that he cannot find his red pajamas because she has them in the laundry basket. And he better clean up his room so they can read a bedtime story. The tone of her voice is perfect “mom tone,” sweet and remarkably zen, yet no nonsense.
The bedroom is not empty, by the way. In addition to the furniture, there are Llama’s three favorite toys: Fuzzy (charming Xavier Ali, who looks like an American Ninja Warrior turned children’s actor); Dinosaur (ever optimistic Elisha X Beston); and Robot (talented, hilarious Andrew Mondello). The toys come to life, fantastically, whenever Mama Llama leaves the room.
Instead of opting for a library book, Llama wants to read his favorite—a textbook about the history of bedtime attire, from Medieval shifts to business conference T-shirts. Cue a wacky song and dance that ends with a long, drawn out good night between Mama Llama and Baby Llama.
When Mama finally escapes downstairs, Llama cannot fall asleep. Especially since his toys don’t seem at all sleepy, either. The shenanigans between Llama, Fluffy, Dinosaur, and Robot are highlights of this delightful, savvy, sweet musical. At every step the dialogue is crisp, complex, and comic—just as much for parents as kids. The songs are most amusing, and these actors blend harmonies like pros.
My favorite number raucously enacts what Baby Llama thinks Mama is doing instead of getting him a glass of water. He envisions her excitedly reading the newspaper, then pounding away on her computer, and then, eating a huge cake. Itasca was scandalized, her hunches confirmed. I bit my tongue, knowing Mama was probably prying food off the kitchen floor, frantically getting ready for the next day.
This show lingers long after it’s over, and some parents worry that their “littles” will take away too much. “No taking notes on any of this, kids!” a father behind me said—after Llama hopped out of bed a fourth time.”
Don’t miss “Llama Llama Live!” this summer!
“Llama Llama Live!” by Austin Zumbro, directed by Marty Johnson, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT), in Berkeley, weekends through Sunday, July 21, 2019. Info: bactheatre.org
After July 21, the show moves to Sunnyvale, San Francisco, and then a national tour.
Cast: Kris Anthony Williams, Sheila Townsend, Xavier Ali, Elisha X Beston, and Andrew Mondello.