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Musical based on classic childrens’ characters to visit Mishler Theatre

April 4, 2011
By Kristy MacKaben , The Altoona Mirror

dults in the audience might know the characters and storyline better than their kids.

The Berenstain Bears, the family of bears who have been around for almost 40 years in Stan and Jan Berenstain's beloved children's books, are hitting the stage at the Mishler Theatre at 7 p.m. April 12.

The musical "Berenstain Bears in Family Matters" has intertwined three of the Berenstains' most popular books: "The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers," "The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food" and "The Berenstain Bears' Trouble at School."

Article Photos

Sister and Brother Bear peek around their home in “Berenstain Bears in Family Matters,” being performed at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona on April 12.

"It takes three of the books and puts them together," Michael Borton, co-writer, composer and lyricist for the 50-minute production said. "Putting them all together was the fun part."

Borton, along with other creative team members from Matt Murphy Productions, met with the Berenstain family to write the script.

"These three stories spoke to me because they dealt with family members individually and their problems that are solved with the help of Mama Bear and other family members," Borton said.

Fact Box

If you go

What: "Berenstain Bears in Family Matters"

When: 7 p.m. April 12

Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona

Tickets: $8 for adults, $5.50 for children and $7 for seniors. A $2.50 convenience fee is added to each ticket. Grandparents are free when accompanied by a grandchild. Tickets can be purchased by calling 944-9434 from Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or at

Filled with songs and dancing, the musical teaches lessons through the troubles faced by Brother Bear, Sister Bear and Papa Bear.

Brother gets a bad grade on a test at school. At first, he tries to hide his troubles but soon realizes opening up to his family is the best way to help solve his problems. Meanwhile, Sister learns about the rules of talking to strangers and Doc Grizzly points out that the Bears are eating too much junk food.

Everyone's secret is revealed when Mama finds Brother's test, Papa's junk food wrappers and Sister's friend, Mr. Frog, who she snuck into the house to protect him from strangers. The theme of the show is that family is what matters the most.

"What's truly great is the fun always carries with it a valuable life lesson in the end and that's a wonderful way to educate," Kate Shaffer, Blair County Arts Foundation executive director, said.

The production is appropriate for preschool aged kids through third grade, and parents will probably enjoy the stories from their childhood.

"The Berenstain Bears have enchanted young readers for generations," Shaffer said. "Even my children grew up on Berenstain Bears."

The kids relate to the characters, Borton said. Wearing the typical clothing from the children's books, the characters resemble bears, however, their faces are not masked, like they might be at an amusement park. This is on purpose, Borton said, because it allows the children in the audience to "see their faces and see the human side of the characters." The bears have furry feet, furry hands and wigs, but their faces are not covered.

Another favorite for kids is the music. Each character has a different genre of music. For Mama, it's "down-home," Borton said. Sister Bear's theme is children's music, and Brother Bear is rock.

"I picked a theme for each individual," Borton said. "It's like you're watching a Broadway play."

Chris Krenning of Illinois, who plays Brother Bear said the music is incredible and the energy behind the actors is catching.

Playing Brother Bear is nothing but fun, said 21-year-old Krenning, who recently graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan.

"Brother's really fun. He's got a lot of witty one-liners," Krenning said. "The songs he has are great. I never really leave the stage. The only time I'm off stage is when I'm changing. He has a lot of pop rock stuff, very high energy."

The entire show is high energy and encourages audience interaction, Borton said. At the end of the show, there's a sing-along with the audience.

"It's great for kids," Krenning said. "There are lessons to learn, but it's fun and funny and not too serious. It's perfect for kids to understand and get the meanings."

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