Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Click Clack Moo

Catherine and I don't often see theater for young audiences (or, as it used to be called, children's theater). Because we don't have children and aren't around them very often, we don't really have any perspective of what's appropriate for a kid or what they appreciate; it's why we thought the David Byrne/Maira Kalman book, Stay Up Late (adapted from the most excellent Talking Heads song) was a good Christmas gift for our niece, Rebekah, when she was 2*. So the TYA productions we see usually have a bit of an edge to them, like Kneehigh Theatre's Rapunzel at the New Victory in 2008 or Pomegranate Arts' Shockheaded Peter when it was last here in 2005.

Now, I've known about Theatreworks USA since I first moved to New York. As an actor, it's a great gig: an Equity production (read: you get paid a decent wage) of quality theater for children and teens. Unfortunately, most all of their productions are musicals and since I don't dance at all, I never even bothered to go to their open calls (which, even if you do sing and dance, are a crap shoot at best if you don't have an agent: you're competing against actors who do have representation... for me, the odds against my being cast were just too ludicrously long). I'm not sure how I've managed to live in NYC for over twenty years and never see anything by Theatreworks (surely someone I know must have been in one of the couple of dozen shows they have on their roster each season) but, somehow, the current production of Click Clack Moo at the Lucille Lortel was my first.

The play is based on the book by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin, and the adapters—Billy Aronson (book), Kevin Del Aguila (lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music)—have created a rather sweet, silly little musical that's a lot more fun than I expected. On their website, Theatreworks describes the piece as being appropriate for 5- to 8-years-old (K-4th grade); however, in the tradition of the classic cartoons I watched in my youth, there are as many jokes that only the adults can really appreciate as there are puns and pratfalls for the kiddies.

The plot involves a cow revolt on Brown's Farm over unfair working conditions: their barn is too cold at night and they want blankets. Unfortunately, Farmer Brown doesn't understand their moos so they can't communicate their dissatisfaction to him. The situation turns to their advantage when Farmer Brown leaves a laptop and printer in the barn; seconds after they discover it, the cows master not only the ability to type on the keyboard without fingers but also the English language (don't think about it: just accept it and move on). As the conflict escalates, Brown's stubborn refusal to negotiate with his livestock alienates his grandaughter and he runs the risk losing his farm altogether.

The actors are all endearingly sweet, appropriately broad in their performances and have strong musical theater voices, which work very well for the songs. As is usually the case with musicals these days, a panoply of contemporary styles are represented in the score; it's not all that imaginative but it's never boring (which is, I realize, the most important criterion where kids this age are concerned). The director, John Rando, keeps the action swift (I know it's to keep the little ones' attentions from wandering but I appreciated it immensely, too) and Wendy Seyb's choreography is simple yet effective.

At the matinee we attended, the audience was clearly enjoying the performance: one little boy, probably no more than 4 or 5, couldn't resist getting up in the aisle and dancing along with all of the songs. His enthusiasm was infectious and it reminded me that there are times when going to the theater is actually fun.

*My sister, Kelly, was very nice about it but I'm sure she thought we were just too weird for words (she was right). Actually, since Rebekah turns 19 next month and is starting college next week, it would be much more appropriate for her on this birthday... but I'm thinking she probably doesn't need two copies of the book.

1 comment:

Heather said...

This is one of our favorite books!! And to think, it is now a musical! Amazing. I bet my kids would love it.