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The 'Berenstain Bears' on stage, fur and all

February 22, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Sister Bear and Brother Bear - they'll all be at The Capitol Theatre on Tuesday in the fur.

The sibling bears still will be benefiting from life's lessons, but this time in song as the Omaha Theater Company presents two shows of the live-action musical "Berenstain Bears On Stage!"

The show, in its second year of touring nationally, has been immensely successful with bookings in about 30 cities a year, said Mike Berenstain, whose parents Stan and Jan Berenstain created the popular bear family book series in 1962 and wrote the musical. Mike Berenstain joined his family in helping to write and illustrate the books during the late 1980s.

Elliot Lawrence, musical director for the Tony Awards, and his son, Jamie Broza, composed the music, with lyrics by Stan Berenstain, according to the theater company.

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The Berenstain Bears series is the longest-running and best-selling children's book series about the same set of characters, Berenstain said in a recent telephone interview from his studio in Bucks County, Pa. The series, which includes beginning reader books and chapter books, has more than 200 titles.

Berenstain, 55, attributes the series' popularity to its humor; rich, interesting visual illustrations; and a focus on family issues.

For young children, their lives are their family and the interrelationships with siblings and parents, Berenstain said.

The series debuted with the bear family living a rustic lifestyle. The Berenstain Bears' lives have become more suburban during the years, but there are still no cell phones for the bear family.

Stan Berenstain died in November 2005, but new books continue to be published bearing his name because the family team worked far in advance, Mike Berenstain said. These days Mike Berenstain said he does most of the writing, while he and his mother, Jan, 83, illustrate the stories.

The next book, due in April, will be "The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble With Commercials."

Another book coming out this fall, "Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend," is the result of fan response. The story deals with the death of the family pet, a goldfish.

For years parents have inquired about a Berenstain Bears book dealing with death, perhaps because the family dog died, yet the family resisted writing such a book because they prefer to do books that are "fun and entertaining," Mike Berenstain said.

"We finally developed an approach that wouldn't be frightening or threatening, but reassuring and comforting, and (that) we felt good about doing," Berenstain said.

"We would never have dealt with death if it had not been (for) repeated requests from our fans," he said.

The musical will be much lighter fare, based on five books written by his parents in the late 1970s and 1980s. They are "The Berenstain Bears' New Baby," "The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room," "The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright," "The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare" and "The Berenstain Bears and the Truth."

The family wrote a second musical based on "The Berenstain Bears Save Christmas," that has only been shown in Omaha, Neb. The show is being revised and is expected to be performed in Omaha for Christmas 2008 and then go on tour nationally.




If you go ...



WHAT: "Berenstain Bears On Stage!" a musical presented by the Omaha Theater Company

WHEN: 10:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27. The morning show is sold out. Tickets for the evening show can be purchased by calling The Capitol Theatre box office at 717-263-0202 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.

WHERE: The Capitol Theatre, 159 S. Main St., Chambersburg, Pa.

COST: Tickets are $12 for adults; $8 for ages 18 and younger.

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 81 north to exit for U.S. 30. Turn left off exit onto U.S. 30. At the square, turn left on Main Street (U.S. 11) and go 1 1/2 blocks. The theater will be on the right. Parking is along the street and in nearby lots.

MORE: For more information, go to www.thecapitoltheatre.org or call 717-263-0202.

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