We were all in school at some point, and some of us even paid attention long enough to remember it. But it’s doubtful many of us were the victims of such a dastardly trick as Miss Nelson plays on her pupils in the new play, “Miss Nelson is Missing,” which opened last Friday at Rochester Civic Theatre.
Miss Nelson, after being tormented by her class of misbehaving students, does a disappearing act and shows up disguised as substitute teacher, Miss Swamp, a combination witch and drill instructor. The students are frightened into behaving and studying for their big upcoming test. And before long, they’re wishing they had Miss Nelson back.
That’s the premise of this play, which is based on the popular book of the same name. The show is geared primarily at school-age kids, but adults in the audience will chuckle reflectively as they watch the hijinks unfold.
Director Denise Ruemping has gathered a high-energy cast of seven young people to portray Miss Nelson’s students. Jack Harrington is the class nerd. Anna Hammell is a nervous girl who vomits a lot. Josiah Rutgers plays a boy who channels Elvis Presley. Anastacia Bolkwadze is a gum-chewing toughie. Corie Casper is her partner in crime. Zibby Trewartha-Weiner is a pupil who wants to become a fashion model. Ian Gill is the class leader.
Melissa Gergen plays Miss Nelson and Miss Swamp and knows what she’s doing; in her day job, she’s a third-grade teacher in Pine Island. We have a warning for her Pine Island students: She really comes to life as Miss Swamp.
Also in the cast is Matthew Marshall as the school principal and as a detective the kids consult when searching for the missing Miss Nelson.
One of the highlights of the show is a series of clever videos showing what might have happened to Miss Nelson during her hiatus.
Generally, it’s a fun, fast-moving show. One could complain that the kids, who are supposed to be in elementary school, seem to have the personalities and body language of teens.
But everyone will recognize the students — and the teachers — being portrayed on the stage. In fact, they’ll probably see themselves in Miss Nelson’s class. After all, we’ve all been there.