At the new “Hot Wheels for Real” exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (through Jan. 27), pint-size Andrettis can use a simple computer program to customize a video car, have their picture taken in a play car, and see life-size versions of such Hot Wheels classics as the Twin Mill and the Bone Shaker. They can send cars down a ramp into a loop-the-loop and position reusable decals on a colorful car frame.
What they can’t do, alas, is the most fun thing about Hot Wheels: They can’t create and test their own track layouts.
This isn’t a problem with just the Children’s Museum exhibit. It’s a problem with Hot Wheels in general. And at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, let me explain.
In my day, any self-respecting Hot Wheels kid had a box of random track parts, along with a supply of their tongue-like connectors, at the ready for any few hours of downtime from more physical activity. On any given rainy day, these components—combined with a crucial ingredient called imagination—were used to fill a living room with impossible-in-real-life track layouts.
Sometimes, the die-cast metal cars stayed on these tracks. Sometimes they didn’t. And through a little something called trial-and-error, Corvette Stingrays, Dodge Challengers, and various hot rods, school buses, and VW Bugs eventually zoomed, banked and twisted their way from start to finish.
Good luck trying to find a simple pack of tracks and connectors in the toy department of your local big-box retailer these days. And online isn’t much better. (Just to be sure, I did check with Mattel for the availability of plain-old track and connectors and was directed to its replacement parts department, where you can pick up track and curves for 50 cents to $1.50 a piece and have to call a separate number for connectors. Jeez.)
Today, Hot Wheels are more about self-contained sets—Hot Wheels T-Rex Takedown, Hot Wheels Super 6-Lane Raceway, Hot Wheels Turbo Garage, et al. These kits do most of the thinking the kids used to do. And they don’t work when a piece or two is missing.
One of the reasons I looked forward to the exhibit is because the original plan included DIY tracks. But according to a Children’s Museum representative, there were issues with track durability and space limitations. That’s a shame. Because while kids can surely still have fun with what’s on display in “Hot Wheels for Real,” they’re missing out on just the thing that could keep them playing and playing and playing … and thinking.
Given the packaged nature of modern Hot Wheels, I’m guessing that, 30 years from now, these kids won’t have the same nostalgic pull for the product line that their parents do today.
Indy’s small professional theaters seem obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. Over the past few years, Q Artistry has staged “Cabaret Poe,” Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre has offered Halloween Poe readings and, in May, Acting Up Productions brought us the biographical musical “Nevermore.”
Granted, Poe is an interesting character. His tortured psyche would seem to lend itself to psychological exploration. “Nevermore” attempts to take us into his tortured heart and mind, surrounding him with the significant women in his life as he wrestles with his demons. Think “Nine,” only much darker.
I’m guessing the songs—which use Poe’s poetry as lyrics—may prove more effective on their own than as part of a musical. They aren’t without interest here, but they have to be forced and contorted into trying to serve the narrative. That rarely works in lightweight jukebox musicals and faces even greater challenges in more serious work such as this.
Acting Up’s minimalist production doesn’t help. The music is atmospheric, but it suffers from only being played on piano. (If any musical begs for a cello, it’s this one.) The tech is basic, so we don’t get the hallucinogenic visuals that might enhance the atmosphere. What we are left with is a song cycle—well-sung and competently acted—awkwardly trying to be a musical.•
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