Prior to a rehearsal for the Community Players of Streator children’s musical “Babes in Toyland,” 17-year-old cast member Tessa Walker was offstage talking to and laughing with some of the younger girls in the production.
Acting in her first Community Players show, the Streator High School senior was getting to know some of her castmates.
“It’s a nice change of pace (from high school). I have kind of a mother hen personality. They hold me in respect and I respect them, too,” Walker said.
Every children’s theater production at Engle Lane Theatre in Streator brings younger and older kids together. Long Point’s Marlee Reel, who was in Engle Lane children’s shows as a young girl, finally is directing one, with help from her sister, assistant director Kelly Lefler, also of Long Point.
“ ‘Babes in Toyland’ was something (cast members) have never heard of, but their parents told them about it. When Kelly told me ‘Babes in Toyland’ was available, I said ‘go for it,’ ” said Reel, who is directing 47 children in this musical.
“Babes in Toyland” has been around much longer than any of those parents.
An operetta first staged in 1903, it brings together characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes. “Babes in Toyland” has the evil Barnaby (Streator’s Dalton Dean) threatening to foreclose on the Widow Piper (Holly Hladovcak, also of Streator) unless she allows him to marry her daughter, Mary, played by Walker.
A 17-year-old Streator High senior, Dean has been acting since working in “The Wizard of Oz” in eighth grade at St. Michael the Archangel School. He since has been in Streator High and Engle Lane productions, yet has never played a villain.
“Every show needs someone like (a villain). If I play it well, I don’t mind playing someone like that,” Dalton said.
Vying for Mary’s affections is Alan, Barnaby’s nephew, portrayed by incoming Streator High freshman Nick Yanek. An Engle Lane children’s theater cast member since sixth grade, he likes the old-fashioned style of “Babes in Toyland.”
“It’s definitely a big change. The dialogue is really different than today. I prefer these plays, honestly. The characters have a lot more personality,” Yanek said.
Walker has been in Streator High plays. She missed auditions for this summer’s regular Engle Lane show “Mamma Mia!”, yet decided to give “Babes in Toyland” a try, since next year she will be too old to be in a children’s theater production.
“I adore the costumes and the style of speech. I like everything about it,” she said.
Children of all ages working together has produced results, according to Reel.
“They’ve done a fantastic job. I have no complaints. It’s been a lot less chaotic than I expected,” she said.
If anything, Reel has plenty of support from family members who also are cast members. Acting in “Babes in Toyland” are her nieces Ali Lefler (10 years old) and Elizabeth Reel (7); nephews Cole Lefler (16) and Blaine Lefler; and daughters Melody (8) and Rylee (6) Reel. Sister-in-law Emma Reel is music director. All reside in Long Point.
Additional cast members, in order of appearance, include: Bissie Abbott, Holly Hladovcak, Joe Pavlick, Katie Monaghan, Matthew Sims, Olivia “Lou” Granados, Christopher Pollett, Devin Lawton, Ryan Lee, Cora Schultz, Myleigh Muhlstadt, Olivia Smith, Christian Gill, Andie Kerestes, Alex Bacha, Bella Dean, Ted Neuman, Rheagan Goluba and Brady Palm.
Others include: Madison Redfern-Hofbauer, Katherine Bressner, Kenzie Reinhold, Natalie Hudson, Kaitlyn Palm, Tori Campbell, Rylynn Grako, Julia Schultz, Lillian Austin, Meagan Pavlick, Abigail Granados, Brooklyn Graham, Aubree Gallick, Alyssa Hladovcak, Aubree Kovash, Skyleigh Speirer, Jordan Kirkman, Matthew Happold, Tori Campbell, Julianna Schultz and Kenzie Reinhold.
• What: “Babes in Toyland,” a Community Players of Streator children’s musical.
• When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, through Saturday, Aug. 17.
• Where: William C. Schiffbauer Center for the Performing Arts at Engle Lane, 1012 Columbus Road, Streator.
• How: Ticket information is available by calling 815-672-3584 or at englelane.org.