Review: “The Hundred Dresses” gracefully grapples classic story with new vibrance

Noah Moore

Displaying kindness and reverence for others isn’t always an easy thing, and sometimes it takes the message within a children’s show to remind you just how important it is.

WKU Department of Theatre and Dance’s second children’s show “The Hundred Dresses” conveyed a universal message within the confines of an elementary school classroom. Director Austin Vahle’s vision added a certain degree of simplicity to the classic story and the actors were deep-rooted in their characters to make this show much more than a children’s play.

The story, written by Mary Hall Surface, has been a reading staple in schools for years. “The Hundred Dresses” follows the lives of elementary school children Madeline Reeves, Peggy Thomas, Cecile Allen, Jack Beggles and Willie Bounce as they find their world broadened by the presence of new kid Wanda Pentronski, who just so happens to be a Polish immigrant with an accent and a hidden talent for design.

As the children discuss their vast array of dresses, or for Madeline, alternations of dresses, Wanda finds herself conflicted between lying to fit in or telling the truth and feeling even more ostracized. She decides to say she has a hundred dresses lining her closet, with a vast array of fabrics and textures. The girls aren’t convinced, and they begin to mock her to the point of moving away.

Lucky for Wanda, she wins the school’s dress design contest and the classmates see the value in her talents, and as cliche as it sounds, regret their harsh sentiments. The story tackles emotional themes such as nationalism, hatred and mockery all in the second grade, which just goes to show that theatre can conquer all odds and teach lessons in the oddest of places.

The show altogether was convincing in their storytelling and each actor was very well-committed. The child-like nature of the show was a bit redundant, but understandable given the content. The often empty stage with two platforms behind it served the space well and gave the actors the right amount of space to move. Their acting was well-balanced on the thrust stage to give audiences on all sides intel into the story.

It was clear that Vahle’s vision was to display this classic story, but with a tinge of melodrama. Through presentational sequences such as the reporters questioning Madeline, it was clear he emphasized the topic of imaginativeness within this renowned story.

As for the show’s standouts, the show’s two leads Madeline Reeves, played by freshman Riley Davis, and Wanda Pentronski, played by freshman Kalista Graves, had excellent chemistry. Davis had the imaginative, playful side of Maddie balanced with her innate curiosity to make her character truly shine. Graves’ strong Polish accent was well-enough deserving of applause. However, it was the accent coupled with the look of innocence in her eyes and yearning to fit in that made the audience’s hearts ache with her.

Also worth noting was Emilee Taylor as Peggy Thomas. Nothing is more fun than playing a mean girl, and Taylor played it to its maximum potential. She was child-like, yet had a sense of depth. She also was extremely articulate and never lost grip on her complex character, balancing the mean girl archetype with a sense of ingenue at times.

The show’s lighting design stole the show on the technical side, with special nods to moments such as the use of a square gobo during Madeline’s writing scenes, and distinctive lighting for the different scenes within the show. Although the costumes at times were out of period, the majority of the dresses used were both in period and in character — not to mention having their touch of 1930’s glamour.

The cast of many newcomers did not disappoint in this weekend’s production of “The Hundred Dresses.” Through Vahle’s impressive vision, the audience was reminded of the beauty of simplicity in the world and how important it is to display kindness in all circumstances.

Reporter Noah Moore can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].