Peter, Wendy, and Captain Hook
By Mary Vallo
The Bergen Record Staff
Family troupe brings classic to Hackensack
Children's Theater has always been a family affair for Michael Taubenslag. He and his brother and sister put on shows written by Dad, Elliott Taubenslag, while Mom worked the box office. These days, Michael is continuing the tradition with his Taubenslag Productions, which is bringing a series of musical comedies for children to Bergen County. “Peter Pan” is the first show of the series performed at the Bergen County Vo-Tech High School Auditorium in Hackensack on Sunday. Taubenslag says he follows the old family recipe, originated by Dad. “We don't talk down to the kids, we play up to their level. We visually stimulate their imaginations and give them a great time.” But Taubenslag says adults will not be bored. “My father's big formula is you have to make the shows very entertaining for the adults as well, even though its for kids. Like Disney, we entertain everybody.”
The shows scheduled for this season (the company tours the East Coast) sound a bit like a Disney roster. In addition to “Peter Pan,” productions of “Pinocchio,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast” were written before the Disney productions. “My father wrote ‘Aladdin' in 1965, and we never had an audience. Then Disney released it and now we sell out.” “Beauty and the Beast” was also a poor draw, until the film version was released, according to Taubenslag.
In addition to entertaining, Taubenslag says he likes to impart a message, or moral, to the kids. Sometimes the message is part of the play, like the ugly but kind beast. And sometimes the message is in the diversified casting. In “Peter Pan” the boy who plays little Michael has Cerebral Palsy. Taubenslag first tried the actor out at a Summer Theater program he runs in Edison. “All of the kids in the audience accepted him as just a regular kid, even though he had a cane.”
Taubenslag says his productions are characterized by colorful staging, original scores, and audience participation. “In a lot of the shows I am either the narrator or the villain and I try to get the audience involved. In ‘Peter Pan' I play Captain Hook and a lot of time it's me against the audience.”