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The Berenstain Bears Live! in Family Matters, the Musical

MMAC Theater

By Bryan Clark
Photo: Berenstain Bears Live

If you are raising young children in the New York area, you know the frustrating limitations of live family entertainment. Typically, you must hand over your wallet to see an overblown spectacle that is an hour too long, or suffer through an incoherent adaptation of a television program in a hockey arena. But The Berenstain Bears Live! Family Matters, the Musical is a refreshing departure from the usual format. Family Matters dares to tell a logical, instructive and entertaining set of stories with upbeat music and a modest yet satisfying stage design. And it's under an hour long, with good seats for just under $30. (For the top ticket of $54.95, your kids get bear ears to wear and a seat on the faux-grass area at the edge of the stage. It's worth it.)

The performers take the stage by storm, as though their year-long tour was a rehearsal for this New York engagement. Writer Michael Borton unapologetically opens the show with a rousing and scene-setting number, “Another Day in Bear County.” If we don't already know the Berenstain family from the popular series of children's books, we know them by the end of this song and we're ready to find out what they're going to do today.

Borton has selected three of the most effective Berenstain stories and put them seamlessly together with no further ado. There is no random narrator, no contrived additional storyline, no extra characters from outside the world of the books. Father Bear (Ryan Scarlata) deals with his impulse to have “Too Much Junk Food;” Brother Bear (Alex Goley) has “Trouble at School;” Sister Bear (Jill Kurzner) struggles to “Learn About Strangers.” Mama Bear (Laurie Geigel) is the moral compass of the family, guiding them to happy resolution of their troubles.

Director and choreographer Devanand Janki moves the show along at a brisk pace, allowing just enough time for the stories to land. The songs are peppy in the moment and mostly forgettable, but the real payoff comes after the curtain call. At the exit, the supporting actors paint bear noses on your children and you can take their picture for free with the principal cast. I must acknowledge that my children did cry — when I made them wash off the greasepaint and remove their bear ears for bed six hours later.
The Berenstain Bears Live! in Family Matters, the Musical; Book by Michael Borton and Michael Slade; Music & Lyrics by Michael Borton; Choreographed and directed by Devanand Janki. MMAC Theater, 248 West 60th Street. (212)-787-1178.