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Blumenthal play a little fun, not much STEM

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • ‘Fun With STEM’

    Brief, uninspired blend of singing, magic, comedy and live music with Cory the Clown.

    WHEN: Through April 6 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

    WHERE: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.

    TICKETS: $18.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.


In a fit of insane optimism, the online blurb for the show “Fun With STEM” says it’s “Broadway bound.” It’s about as ready to go to New York as NASA is to send a manned expedition to the sun.

Any 56-minute show that starts 38 minutes late without explanation begins in a hole, and “STEM” never climbed out Friday. Cory the Clown makes an amiable host, doing magic tricks with bottles and fooling with a recalcitrant broom. But whenever this outing stops being “The Cory the Clown Show,” as a hanging banner occasionally identifies it, it stops being fun. (I was informed the following day that a computer malfunction wiped out special effects that would have extended the show and made it more complex. The producer has addressed that problem.)

It’s pitched at elementary schoolers but contains little to do with science, technology, engineering and math they wouldn’t already know. (That’s what the acronym stands for.) We are told rain makes things grow, engineers design toys and tools and almost anything we touch, plants yield medicine, musicians use math.

The one genuinely complex scientific apparatus, a pulley rigged to water a plant, doesn’t work. Cory is reduced to showing the impressive innards of a silent robotic toucan. (Darrel the Barrel, another puppet mentioned in the program, never appears.) Folks onstage talk about a meteor shower and look through a telescope at the stars, but we see nothing.

The cast works tirelessly to sell cheerfully indistinguishable songs with lyrics such as this: “Recycle, recycle, keep it in your mind/Things you throw away you can use another time.” Gifted pianist Ethan Uslan fills dead air with Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” underlining the paucity of the score.

One song extols the power of imagination: We can pretend to be pirates, archers, Jedi knights. That’s a lovely thought, though likelier to inspire novelists than mathematicians. But it’s impossible to imagine this show leaving Booth Playhouse as it stands.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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