The fifth part of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon introduces a second character, Harold’s friend, a little girl. Their friendship begins to blossom in a garden, but when the girl is kidnapped by insidious spiders (!), Harold must come to her rescue.
It’s in this fifth section that Robbie Molinari, the animator who created the projected scenery for the production, really takes flight. Harold’s search for the little girl requires him to travel to a castle and explore the rooms of that castle, and the interaction of movement and stage animation is remarkably ingenious. Walking, climbing, opening doors, disappearing through doors, bouncing off of locked doors – Harold does so many things that we forget that what we’re seeing are actors moving about on an empty stage.
The music of the garden scene, like several other sections of the Harold score, was adapted from a theme I created for a music-theater adaptation of Einstein’s Dreams that I had worked on a few years earlier. There’ll be selections from that work posted on Project 194 in the days to come, at which point I’ll be sure to link them up.
The “searching the castle” sequence sounds more like something Henry Mancini might have written for The Pink Panther, and the instrumentalists (Ron Kerber on sax and Matt Gallagher on trumpet) give solid, swinging performances. The search and the upcoming chase are among the satisfying sections of this score for me!
You’ve probably noticed by now that The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon is a series of short episodes, each of which is about ten minutes long, and each of which corresponds to one of Crockett Johnson’s books. Part 1 (in my nomenclature) is the original first book, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955); Part 2 was drawn from Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957), and Part 3 is based on Harold’s Circus, published in 1959. The creative team at Enchantment Theatre Company – director Leslie Reidel and founders Jennifer and Landis Smith – found a way to link these short books together in a sort of variety show, and the next episode they included is one of my favorites – Harold’s ABC, published in 1963.
The interplay of movement, props, magic, video and music is particularly intricate and whimsical in this section of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon. As Harold draws each letter with his purple crayon, an object appears with that letter (A is apple, B is book, and so on) and Harold and the objects interact in clever and surprising ways – for instance the Cat and Dog are animated figures that get into a fight once they appear on the screen.
The music for this section is built around a simple, playful theme which has a bitonal flavor. In its bouncy pop rhythm, the main theme for the ABC section shows how much my work on this project was inspired by the jazz compositions of Vince Guaraldi, whose score for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became a classic during my lifetime. The appearance of the Little Girl is accompanied by a jaunty tune with a soft-shoe rhythm; the interplay of the two lead instruments (flute and trumpet at first, then trumpet and sax) is meant to evoke the interplay of the two characters. Later, the “Walk in the Moonlight” theme, introduced in part 1, is heard, since M is for Moon, and the Pie Dance theme is heard when the appearance of the letter P is followed by a piece of pie. R, S and T are three clowns whose antics are accompanied by a zany Bulgarian-style transformation of the ABC theme, and when Harold gets them to stand in the order S – T – R, he draws an A which makes the word “STAR” and the screen fills with stars. Throughout this section, there is a quality of free-association that I find delightfully creative. I hope today’s musical excerpt conveys some of that creative spirit. Perhaps it will inspire you to come and see Harold at the Merriam Theater on April 12!
After the prancing ponies finish their performance, Harold watches a magic show. A table is set onstage on which a top hat magically appears, and then Harold is able to turn it into a bouquet of flowers. A large trunk is wheeled onstage and an assistant climbs into the trunk and vanishes. It’s a splendid display that was orchestrated by the master of magic himself, Landis Smith, one of the founders of Enchantment Theater Company.
The last episode of Harold’s visit to the circus is a lion tamer. Harold puts his head inside the jaws of the beast and receives the audience’s tumultuous applause. In the last bit of magic, the circus disappears and Harold finds himself home again. Was it all a dream? What will his next adventure be?
Back from outer space, Project 194 has got more Harold for you on a sunny spring morning!
Part 3 begins with a couple of quick “doodles,” as Harold, sitting alone in his room, quickly draws a boat, then sees it swallowed by a giant octopus, then a cowboy who goes down in a hail of arrows. These are little exploratory daydreams that he abandons as soon as they get too scary, and they serve as a little “amuse bouche” before moving on to the next big adventure: Harold’s trip to the Circus!
Parade music introduces a series of circus characters in short vignettes. A bluesy tenor sax introduces an extended bit with two clowns (or is it three? the staging plays tricks on the eye!) in a musical section called “Clowning Around.” A short bit follows where Harold draws an elephant, then draws a peanut to feed to him. The next extended section is a ragtime dance for two horses. This circus sequence showcases the virtuoso Enchantment performers, who dash offstage, change costumes, and then return to the stage to clown, caper, dance, mime and cavort with skill and panache as dozens of different characters. Tomorrow, the circus continues! Meanwhile, plan to see Harold live onstage on April 12 and 13 at the Merriam Theater!
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! It feels like spring, and all sorts of things seem to be growing here in Philly, not the least of which is the unbroken string of posts I’ve made to Project 194.
In this second part of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold needs a drink of water and finds one in the desert. Bored and looking for something fun to do, he decides to go to the Moon and takes a ride on a rocket ship. He battles with a frightening space creature before escaping and returning home, parachuting into his bed with the help of an umbrella.
“Harold decided to go to the moon.” That little bit of narration sums up the magic of this show, and the magic of theater. You look around and decide that you’re bored with your surroundings, so you decide to go somewhere else. There are no practical constraints: “What? You can’t go to the moon!” Your imagination is the only resource you need to have the most remarkable adventures. I think that Harold’s “anything-goes” attitude set me free as a composer working on this project. Weird-ass jazz in multiple time signatures? Why not?
By the way, the Rocket Ship theme is a tune I recycled from the 2007 edition of Gemini the Musical called “The Boy My Father Thinks He Knows,” and I’ll link up to it once I get around to posting it. It works much better here than it did there, trust me.