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Raleigh to Broadway and back: Performer brings theater to kids

Posted March 6, 2016 9:00 p.m. EST

Raleigh native and Broadway performer Lauren Kennedy has performed on some of the biggest stages in New York and beyond. But she's returned to her roots as artistic director of Theatre Raleigh, which opened the incredibly entertaining family show "The Wolf" over the weekend.

The show runs through March 20 at the Kennedy Theatre (which is named after Kennedy's parents) at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. Kennedy commissioned "The Wolf," a 45-minute mash-up of various fairy tales, which Theatre Raleigh debuted last year.

It tells the story of a tween boy, stuck on the farm with his grandfather, as he jockeys for the attention of a girl and attempts to keep the animals on his farm safe from The Wolf.

Inside the black-box theater, the action - theater, dance and some pretty amazing acrobatics - takes place in the middle of the audience - and sometimes even in the seats. It's an intimate production with great appeal for kids. They're not just watching the show, but, at times, almost part of it - just steps away from the actors.

And it's really fun to watch. The story of tween angst entertained my own tween. Both my tween and kindergartner enjoyed picking out the various fairy tales that appeared throughout the production. And it wasn't just fun for them. The performers bring heartfelt, high-energy performances to the stage to tell this compelling story.

For this production, Kennedy serves as both director and choreographer, leading a cast of local actors - young and older. They include T. Philip Caudle, most recently familiar to Triangle family audiences as Sam the Snowman in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. She also brought in two actors from New York - William Thomason, who plays the role of one of the pigs, and Quincy Ellis, who returns as the acrobatic Wolf.

Kennedy said she didn't expect to have so many young performers in the production. But, when they came in for auditions, they blew her away. "These little kids came and they killed it, so I added roles for them," she said.

"The Wolf" also is a family affair. Kennedy's daughter Riley Campbell, a Raleigh middle schooler with her own theater credits, plays the part of the cat/fox. (She was the young Cosette in the N.C. Theatre's production of "Les Miserables" two years ago).

The show is one of many Kennedy hopes to bring to family audiences over the years. Theatre Raleigh also stages a regular season of theater and a summer concert series.

The family series will give young performers a place to grow. "I grew up doing shows in the area," she said. "This is where I cut my teeth as a performer."

But the series isn't just about training young performers - it's about teaching young audience goers to love the theater.

"We're teaching them how to be future audience members," she said. "This is the age when people learn to love theater. This is an effort to save our art form."

I highly recommend "The Wolf" for preschoolers and up. Tickets, which are on sale online, are $10 for kids and $15 for adults. The show runs Thursday through Sunday until March 20 and includes matinees on both Saturdays and Sundays.

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