Charlotte’s ‘Treasure Hunt’ cast’s energy is on the mark though journey falls short

Charlotte Children's Theatre

“Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt” has much in common with the life of a third-grader, which the main character happens to be: haste, noise, chaos, mood swings, lots of running around, frustration and a happy outcome after brainpower is applied.

What it doesn’t have – and this is rare for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte – is an emotional journey, characters of any depth or a sophistication that offers pleasures for adults as well as stimulation for youngsters. This is its seventh stop on a rolling world premiere among American theater companies, yet hardly anything about it feels fresh.

Playwright Allison Gregory, who used the characters created by Megan McDonald, has borrowed her title from the 1963 film comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” There, too, madcap characters dash about frantically in search of a treasure. (The clues in “Judy Moody” require more intelligence, and elementary schoolers might enjoy puzzling them out.)

In this case, Judy, little brother Stink and their parents take a weekend trip to Ocracoke Island, where a promoter named Scurvy Sam offers them and another pair of kids a chance to win a gold doubloon by working out five riddles. I haven’t been to Ocracoke in a few years, so I can’t say whether Gregory’s depiction of it as a semi-cheesy tourist trap holds true.

Gregory throws in girl-power factoids about pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read and physician Elizabeth Blackwell, plus a mild message about cooperation leading to triumph. (That would make more sense if the other kids didn’t cooperate, but they work together just as hard and lose.) Mostly, she’s content to divert us with imaginary pirate battles or giddy action sequences. At one point, Judy, Stink and the others bolt around the stage wildly until … they stop.

Director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge gives “Treasure Hunt” the manic energy Gregory demands. Elisha Bryant’s Judy and Adrian Thornburg’s Stink make brashly funny heroes, and Alex Gagne deserves a doubloon of his own for multi-accented, multi-wigged performances as everything from Scurvy Sam to a waiter dressed as a crab. They never run out of gas, even when the play does.

“Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt”

WHEN: Through Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

TICKETS: $23.40-$36.

RUNNING TIME: 60 minutes without intermission.

DETAILS: 704-973-2828 or ctcharlotte.org.

Children’s Theatre offers furloughed employees or contractors up to four complimentary tickets to either “Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt” or “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.” Go to the box office with a federal ID by Feb. 8 to book tickets.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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