The unequivocal adulation, the young, squealing audience members, the occasional moment when an enthusiast will rush the stage, these are the things that cause musical theatre actress Renee Colvert to admit, "I'm a Beatle, in a way." And yet she's not, in fact, (currently) working as a rock star. No, she is the eponymous lead of Bitty Bear's Matinee, now in an open-ended run at the American Girl theatre in The Grove.
Colvert gives the American Girl affiliation as the reason she was compelled to audition late last year since, as a child, she owned the WWII-era doll Molly. "She was the only one with glasses at the time. And I had to wear glasses, so we connected," says the engagingly pert and spectacle-free actress. The audition, which Colvert remembers as being "a remarkable amount of improv by yourself," consisted of doing her monologue repeatedly, first in a variety of styles, then as the auditioners forced her to deal with her eventual audience by interrupting and/or breaking out in hysterical sobs. She sailed through undeterred.
Theatre Manager and Casting Coordinator Hillary Metcalf says of Colvert, "She's such a wonderful find," as the demands of the show require a special kind of performer. Not only are a good singing voice and expressive face required, but the ability to play is integral to the position. In an explanation that rivals the central character's dilemma in Victor/Victoria, Metcalf describes the actor's challenge in carrying the show thusly: "You're in a [full body costume] and you're pretending to be five, pretending to be a bear, pretending to be...a baseball player or a flower. So there's lots of imagination."
"It's probably the best improv opportunity out there because they're great about allowing 'wiggle room' within the script, it's very interactive," says Colvert. She then confesses, somewhat mischievously, "There's nothing better than watching these poor Dads surrender their dignity at the door and pretend to be flowers and ballerinas so that their kids will play along too!"
Bitty Bear isn't limited to the stage, however. American Girl is a frequent donor to Children's Hospital and Colvert, in full costume, is on hand to present the checks. She often performs for the children as well, an experience she finds "ridiculously rewarding, the best part of the gig" particularly when, as at one performance, a child who hadn't spoken for three weeks turned into a singing, clapping, chatterbox. It turned out that, like his new friend Bitty Bear, he too felt baseball wasn't easy.