The public is invited to a one-night performance tonight of an imaginative retelling of the classic “Henny Penny” story free of charge in the clever children’s opera “The Sky is Falling and I’m Not Even Kidding.”
More than 3,000 children were also able to see the engaging tale performed this week.
“It’s this really neat thing we do up at the UC every year,” performer TaNayiah Bryels said. “Nancy Steele Brokaw, a community member, writes these shows where she takes music from popular operas – Bizet, Gilbert and Sullivan, Mozart, everything – and sets it to children’s tales. This year we’re doing a hybrid of two stories: Henny Penny and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I think people, especially kids, would enjoy it because it’s just utterly fun. The costumes are fun and bright, the music is really great, and it’s just a really entertaining show.”
Katie Steele Brokaw, the director and co-producer of the show, is Nancy’s daughter. “This opera was a big hit when (it was performed) for thousands of Illinois schoolchildren last May,” she said, “and I’m so excited to bring it to audiences in Merced. It’s a funny story, but also had a lot of heart and some profound things to say about lying, exaggerating, and knowing who your friends are. The music is glorious and our performers are top-notch, and there’s lots of audience participation, too!”
Jenni Samuelson is co-producer for “The Sky is Falling and I’m Not Even Kidding” opera and loves the melding of music, hilarity and good morals for children woven throughout the story.
“Nancy Steel Brokaw has a way of weaving humor and life lessons into a most entertaining art form appropriate for all ages,” she said. “The music is glorious, using several of opera’s greatest hits as its score, and the libretto is brilliant. My favorite character has to be Foghorn Red, a sensationalist reporting barnyard bird who capitalizes on dear Henny Penny’s over-reacting. So clever! We have a stellar cast this year, and it’s always exciting to see the community coming out to UC Merced for a live cultural event.”
Free performances of the show were held in twice-daily school performances this week at Lakireddy Auditorium. The project is sponsored by the Merced County Office of Education, Arts UC Merced Presents, the Betty Scalice Foundation and private donations. The show is co-sponsored by Arts UC Merced producing manager Gail Benedict, and Patrice Stribling Nelson is the music director. It stars professional opera singer Shawnette Saulker as Henny Penny, along with Colton Dennis, Uriah Brown and UC Merced student TaNaiyah Bryel.
“This re-imagining of the Henny Penny story and the boy who cried wolf teaches kids important truths about thinking before you speak and examining the facts,” Katie said. “But mainly, it’s a whole lot of fun. It is a great way for people of all ages to enjoy opera!”