The aptly named Vital Children's Theatre mounted a thoroughly charming production of Aesop's Fables that was hip, cool, and sophisticated enough to be a delightful way to spend a Saturday morning, whether you have a child or not.
Never playing down to their audience, Vital's contemporized production tells the story of Emily (Carrie Beth Solomon), a young girl assigned to write a book report on eight of Aesop's Fables. To help her out, she calls on her imaginary friends Miranda (Tracy Gaillard), Violet (Carrie Libling), and Zoey (Jessica Guthrie), who cleverly help her understand the moral of each story. Bringing to life such well-known fables as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Lion and the Mouse, and City Mouse and Country Mouse, as well as four others, the four sassy actresses acted out each story with an infectious verve and energy that made Aesop's sometimes preachy morals fresh, smart, and easy to take.
Bruce Merrill adapted and directed with a light, breezy touch, and the production (scenic painter Jon Reidy, costumes by Gaillard) was a colorful circus of excitement, laughs, and life lessons given with a soft, bittersweet nudge. And judging from the rapt attention given the show from the toddlers and teens in the audience (to say nothing of the adults, who were just as enthralled), Merrill and company hit the bullseye - at a fast-paced 65 minutes, it left its audience wanting more, a sure measure of success given the limited attention spans of most four-year-olds.
With Manhattan bulging from the influx of families with young
children, Vital Children's Theatre is a wonderful place for parents
to introduce their kids to the glories of live theatre, done well
and at modest prices. And if you don't have children of your own,
take nieces, nephews, next-door neighbors - shucks, call Rent-A-Kid.
Or just be brave and go by yourself and indulge your inner child.
It's worth it. One little boy in the front row was so caught up
in the proceedings that his sheer delight energized the entire
house, performers and audience alike. And isn't that supposed
to be one of the main benefits of live theatre?
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita