We gave it a B
As a mother of two young kids, I’ve seen my share of “family friendly” productions— everything from the super-hyped Broadway musicals to the teeny shoestring-budget originals. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I’m cringing, reminding myself that whatever is seen is just a painfully gateway drug to instill in my daughters a lifelong love of superior theater. Other times, I find myself having a ball right next to my kids, even though I’m far (well, far-ish) from the target audience.
Skippyjon Jones Snow What (& the 7 Chihuahuas), based on Judy Schachner’s popular children’s book series about a Siamese cat who thinks he’s a chihuahua, falls in that latter category. (This Theatreworks USA production is playing through Aug. 7 at NYC’s Lucille Lortel Theatre, and free to any and all who attend.) In this new musical (with music by Eli Bolin and book and lyrics by Peter and the Starcatcher vet Kevin Del Aguila, the latter an Emmy-winning writer of PBS’ Peg + Cat, not to mention the voice of a troll in Frozen), Skippyjon Jones (played by Junior Mendez) doesn’t want to go to bed with a fairy tale because he craves adventure. He soon gets plenty, involving a frozen princess, a potion-brewing witch, and a fire-breathing dragon.
This is, of course, a twist on the very fairytale he doesn’t want to hear, but the brightly colored costumes, stuffed animal backup singers, and playful commitment from the actors, almost make the audience feel like they’re seeing that mirror mirror on the wall for the first time. Some songs are a bit off-kilter, and I can always do without the lame portrayal of princesses, though Snow What is salvaged by a “You could do so much more!” feminist pep talk from Skippyjon to one particular damsel in distress. The standout number here—”Ocho Chihuahas”—is catchy and creative, about a pack of wandering dogs who’ve lost half their number.
Interestingly enough, many of my companions, a group of 8-9 year olds from Camp Léman in NYC, agreed with me about the show’s highlights. Beatrice enjoyed how the “chimichangas” danced around Skippyjon. Gabriella complimented the costumes, especially “how they made the dragon.” Maia liked “when the dogs saved the witch.” (Um… spoiler alert, Maia!) Nandini said, “My favorite part was when Snow What learned it was okay to do un-princessly things.” Nate pointed out: “I felt like they collaborated to make the show.” Kayvan actually saw similarities to Star Wars. In their own star-grading system, the play rated a solid 3.5 out of 4 stars from the campers. Depending on who’s going, that assessment might be a great deal more important than my B.
(Tickets are free, and information on how to obtain them can be found at www.theatreworksusa.org)