W.C. Fields said never work with kids or animals, but the folks at Mainstage Classic Theatre either never heard that or just didn’t listen. In the group’s newest show “Cheaper By the Dozen,” the kids outnumber the adults, and there’s even a dog.
The play tells the true story of the Gilbreth family’s dozen children, run by an efficiency expert father in the early 1900s.
It can get confusing, admits Heather Rountree, who plays mom, Lillian Gilbreth.
“I teach full time and teach at Mainstage, too, but I find myself being like my own mom,” Rountree said. “She only had two daughters and I was called every name in the house, even the dog’s name.”
Although the name is the same and there are 12 kids, the movies featuring Steve Martin bear little resemblance to the play or the book about the Gilbreths, Roundtree says.
“This is a story about a father who ran his family like a factory, but it really goes so much further,” she said. “It’s about the love between a mother and father, a love you can feel. They want to prepare their kids to be the best they can be because they love them.”
And the kids act like kids, even if they are from the early 20th century.
“The family dynamics are there,” Roundtree said. “The sister are going to gossip, the brothers are going to do whatever they can to annoy the sisters, there’s always a mischievous one and the parents care.”
The result is a lot of fun, for the audience and the kids on stage.
“The most chaotic part is when we all get to laughing,” said Samantha Shaw, 22, who plays Martha Gilbreth.
Even though having a huge family on stage is fun, none of the young actors would actually like to have 11 siblings, they admit.
“I have three brothers and that’s chaotic enough,” said Emma Huff, 17, who plays oldest daughter Anne.
The other Gilbreth youngsters include Emma Anderson as Ernestine, Brandon Shreve as Frank Jr., Trent Nichols as Bill, Reilly Sanders as Lillian, Tanner Cockrum as Fred, Jackson Huff as Dan, Carly Black as Jackie, Claire Millican as Mary, Bradyn Patterson as Robert and Caroline Nichols as Jane. Four of the youngsters are actually siblings, Emma and Jackson Huff and Trent and Caroline Nichols.
The Nichols kids’ father, Chad, gets in on the act, too, as assistant director and portraying the family doctor. The play is directed by Marty Fredrick, Mainstage’s director. Overseeing this large family -- and serving as the focal point -- is Jim Cox, who plays dad Frank Gilbreth.
It’s their father’s values and legacy that are at the heart of the play, says Emma Huff.
“Things have changed, but the values haven’t,” she said. “They are applicable to all times. You need to appreciate the people in your life, work hard and be modest.”
“Cheaper By the Dozen” opens this weekend with 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows Saturday and a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday at St. John Lutheran Church, 1218 E. Debbie Lane. Admission is $8 for students, $10 for seniors and $12 for adults. Go to www.mainstageclassictheatre.org for tickets or more information.