Starting young

Free to Be...You and Me

Conceived by Marlo Thomas and Friends
Directed by Lawrence Axmith
New York Youth Theater
593 Park Ave. (888-0696)
Non-union production (closes June 20)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

When a cast member's biography says, "Her most favorite thing in the world is sleep-away camp," you know you're not in for a typical Off-Off-Broadway experience. Free to Be...You and Me starred the youngest of the young performers who constitute the New York Youth Theater: the cast ranged in age from 6 to 12. Cleverly costumed and backed by fine technical support, the kids performed this compilation of songs and skits that was originally produced for television in the 1970s under the auspices of the Ms. Foundation for Women.

That gives you an idea of the morals of these stories: it's OK for boys to cry and play with dolls, don't pigeonhole people because of their sex or looks, have confidence in yourself, be nice to others. There's even a fairy tale about a princess who wants to "see the world" and not just settle down with a prince, as her father the king insists. Today these themes may be dismissed as politically correct, but Free to Be... was one of the first works of children's literature to break with tradition.

Director Lawrence Axmith judiciously cast the biggest roles with older children, who were more poised and audible than their younger costars. Natasha Thompson and Alicia Ann Abalo in particular emanated much personality and presence. Axmith probably should have given all the solos and speaking parts to those 10 and over, to ensure the audience could understand all the dialogue and get all the jokes. The numbers sung by the entire company were excellent - loud and clear and, not surprisingly, adorable. The ensemble did a good job of executing the choreography and of pantomiming activities in the background of certain scenes

The cast wore overalls of varying colors and lengths; along with the backdrops, they gave the production a bright, charming look. The special costumes - such as a frilly pink frock for a character known as the Tender Sweet Young Thing, a crown for the king, and black and orange stripes for a pack of tigers - were imaginative, as were the sound and visual effects.

(Also featuring George C. Adams, Jack Elgart, Evynne Stacey Duckman, Michael Howard, Dorian Cobb, Sydney Rae Appelbaum, Michael Deutchman, Tiara-Asada Canty-Samuel, Sarah Jacqueline Nusbaum, Brittany Lahm, Euvina Aikens, Dillon Cooper, Jordan Duffy, Sarah Greenwell, Jennifer Lahm, Kira Lukasiewicz, Isabel McWhorter-Rosen, Lucy McWhorter-Rosen. Musical director/lighting, Phill Greenland; costumes, Mary Ellen Cook; choreography, Anastasia Arten; sound, Florence Barrau-Adams.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Adrienne Onofri