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Farewell my lovely teacher

The popular children's book by Harry Allard comes to the stage

Accept no substitute.

The stage adaptation of 'Miss Nelson Is Missing!,' the popular children's book by Harry Allard, is a must-see production for youngsters Ñ or anyone who's survived a day with a substitute teacher who has had it in for him or her.

This is the West Coast premiere of the play, presented by the award-winning Northwest Children's Theater.

Kids will be familiar with the gentle teacher at Horace B. Smedley elementary school and the unruly students in Room 207 who make her life miserable. As their pranks and misbehaving reach their zenith, Miss Nelson vows that 'Something must be done!' and promptly disappears, only to be replaced by the delightfully wicked and ingeniously awful substitute teacher Miss Viola Swamp.

Actress Amanda Brewer stars as both the sweet-as-sugar Miss Nelson and her tough-as-nails alter ego, Miss Swamp.

'Miss Nelson is really sweet and nice but easily defeated,' Brewer says. 'But when she comes back to the classroom, she's much more assertive.'

From a dramatic standpoint, the role of the evil Miss Swamp held more appeal for her, Brewer says.

'It's always more fun to play someone who's mean,' says Brewer, who's transformed into the hard-as-nails Viola Swamp with the help of a prosthetic chin and nose.

Brewer notes that she's in good company: Nicole Kidman recently won a Golden Globe award for her role as Virginia Woolf, for which she donned an ungainly rubber proboscis. 'Nicole and I really pioneered the use of prosthetics,' she says dryly. 'It's very difficult, but we manage.'

William Barry stars as both school Principal Blandsworth and the bumbling Detective McSmogg. Not to be outdone in the category of celebrity comparisons, he likens his roles to those made famous by the late actor Peter Sellers.

'My character transforms through different hats, jackets and mustaches,' he says.

Everything about the production is larger than life, he says: 'The set and the concept are true to the book, in that everything is cartoonish and oversized.'

There are two casts of children in the play, each of which range in age from 11 to 17. 'They're all doing a great job,' Barry says. 'We can see them improving with each rehearsal.'

John Monteverde, the company's artistic director, draws parallels between the play and current challenges faced by educators.

'The play could be an allegory for the problems that teachers have been having,' he says. 'If we don't appreciate the teachers we have, they'll go away and we'll get teachers like Viola Swamp!'

He says the play is a good fit for its intended audience.

'It's difficult to find plays that appeal to the kindergarten-through-third-grade crowd,' he says. 'Younger children's books typically don't adapt well because of their simplicity, but this is a particularly good adaptation. It fleshes out the book without rewriting it, and the length is right for that age range.'

The play runs about 90 minutes and includes an intermission.

Monteverde says the play also shows little ones that the power to change is within themselves.

'Each kid has their own personal problem they have to resolve as they go about trying to find Miss Nelson,' he says. 'For example, Raymond is a quiet, sulky kid who steps into a leader position. And Elvis, who sits in the back of the classroom with his headphones on, finds that he has to start participating. Every character has to step up in their own way.'

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