Chicago Theatre Review
Up, Up and Away
Montauciel Takes Flight – Lifeline Theatre
Early in the summer of 1783 two brothers performed an exciting experiment to prove to themselves, and the citizens of Annonay, France, that they had invented a means for flight. Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier were running the family paper-making business when young Joseph, described as a maverick and a dreamer, devised the prototype for what would become the hot air balloon. Made of taffeta and paper and coated with alum to make it fireproof, the “envelope” would rise from the ground when the globe-shaped device was filled with hot air, or Montgolfier gas, as they called it. To demonstrate to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette how this fantastic invention might be used to transport people, the brothers built a basket to hang beneath the globe-shaped envelope. They placed a sheep named Montauciel (which translates as “climb to the sky), a duck and a rooster in it for the first successful voyage aloft.
Lifeline Theatre ensemble member James E. Grote creatively dramatizes this historical event, but he cleverly does so from the point of view of the three animals. Partnered with Russell J. Coutinho with his catchy musical score, this 60-minute children’s play for the theatre’s KidSeries is not only entertaining but educational, as well.
The play depicts the 18th century event with whimsy and humor, but it also explains how six simple machines help to make our work easier. Grote centers his story around the plucky little French sheep, creating in Montauciel a character filled with joie de vivre and an insatiable curiosity about science. She leaves home, becomes an employee at the Montgolfier Paper Factory and partners with Joseph in his laboratory. In Grote’s story, Montauciel is the real brains behind the invention of the hot air balloon, along with a handful of other helpful inventions that all employ simple machines.
Although the beginning of this production could use a little more energy and fewer dramatic pauses, director Aileen McGroddy guides her cast in telling this story with flair and humor. Lifeline newcomer Kirra Silver is personable as Montauciel, and she becomes a whirling dervish in her delightfully choreographed song that introduces the six simple machines. Kudos, too, to Properties Designer Amanda Herrmann for her oversized picture book that offers great visuals for the young audience.
The other ensemble members, all of whom play multiple roles, include the magnificent Carisa Gonzalez, a gifted singer and comic actor, as a very funny Bessie the Duck. Jennifer Vance makes a very good, no-nonsense Rooster; Scott Ray Merchant is properly authoritative as Etienne; and Jordan Arredondo makes a marvelously energetic Joseph. He’s particularly funny mouthing both King Louis and his Queen behind their animated portrait.
This entertaining little musical by James E. Grote and Russell J. Countinho, aimed at ages five and up, will enchant audiences of all ages. The bonus in this little fantasy is the inclusion of both historical and scientific facts that parents and teachers can later discuss and build upon. Lifeline Theatre once again demonstrates that they’re one of Chicago’s finest theatre companies, providing delightful and inspiring plays and musicals for young audiences.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 13-February 18 by Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-761-4477 or by going to www.lifelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.