- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Goodness is one of the hardest things to convey in life and onstage, but Imagination Stage's nimble musical version of the classic 1880 children's novel “Heidi” renders the virtue with lightness and grace.

From the singing goats and the subtle oompah-pah strains of Joan Cushing's score (and her devilishly clever lyrics) to Tara Giordano's nuanced performance as the sunniest little girl this side of the Swiss Alps, there's plenty to yodel about in this production.

Recollections of Johanna Spyri's much-translated novel may involve fields of edelweiss and the tinkling of cow bells. Yet what's striking about Martha King De Silva's adaptation is how much Heidi (Miss Giordano) has to endure in her small lifetime. She's an orphan packed off to her grandfather's (Terrence Currier) mountaintop cabin after her coldly pragmatic aunt (Anne Marie Pinto) gets a job in Frankfurt, Germany.

Once with grandfather, it's not all goat cheese and cuckoo clocks. He's a gruff old gent, so torn up with grief over his daughter's death that he's cut off most human contact - except for Peter (Chris Wilson), the moody goatherd. Heidi's whoops-a-daisy spirit wins them over. But before you can say “alpine idyll,” the girl is hauled back down the mountain, this time to serve as a companion to the depressed young Clara (Kate Guesman), a pampered invalid who is commandeered by the nanny Frau Rottenmeier - played by Sandra L. Murphy with such delectable nastiness that the young audience hisses with glee at her inevitable comeuppance.

Heidi's resilience once again sees her through, and at the end she has brought about a compromise that reunites her with her grandfather and sets Clara on a continuing path to wellness. One can only hope that the next time Heidi trundles down the mountain it's for something perkier than servitude or family estrangement.

The can-do indomitability of Heidi is captured in a series of sprightly songs, including an ode to farm chores set to a tick-tock beat and the lovely ballad “Home,” where Heidi glories in her straw pillow and blanket of stars while the wealthy Clara wallows in self-pity and frustration. Another highlight is “Weeds,” sung with acrid gusto by Miss Murphy as she disdains the gifts of field flowers and mountain stones brought by Heidi to Clara.

★★★1/2

WHAT:”Heidi,” book by Martha King De Silva, music and lyrics by Joan Cushing, based on the novel by Johanna Spyri

WHERE:Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, special weekday matinees through Friday. Evening performances are at 7 on April 13 and May 16. Through May 17.

TICKETS: $10 to $21

PHONE: 301/280-1660

WEB SITE: www.imaginationstage.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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