Irving's a prince!

Ballad of Irving the Frog And Other Tales

Written by Kids
Lyrics by Eli Bolin, Drew Callander, and Lee Overtree
Directed by Lee Overtree
Vital Theatre Company Children's Theatre
432 W. 42nd St. (3rd fl.) (212/268-2040)
Non-union production (closes Nov. 23)
Review By Charles Battersby

Excellent theatre is excellent theatre, regardless of the age of its target audience. The Vital Theatre Company's Ballad of Irving the Frog And Other Tales is a perfect example of children's theatre, and a great example of grown-up theatre too. Irving... has singing pirates, puppets, and sea monsters for the kids, plus a heaping dose of tongue-in-cheek campy gags to amuse the grown-ups too! All of which were performed by a cast so full of energy that no stage could contain them!

Irving... is essentially a huge pile of skits and songs originally written by actual kids and adapted by Vital Theatre Company's ensemble into dramatic/musical form. Vital solicits writings from children up and down the East Coast, and the most interesting works are put into the show. True to their origins, many of these scenes were about babysitters and teachers. However, some scenes, like the titular amphibian, displayed a precocious literacy. In addition to the kids' writing, the show featured an original opening number and finale with lyrics written by Vital cast members Eli Bolin, Drew Callander and Lee Overtree (music by Eli "Ten Fingers" Bolin). Bolin filled the show with bouncy, catchy music, and deliberately repetitive lyrics that made for plenty of sing-along fun:

Why would ya do what a dog does?


Why would ya do what a dog does?


A few bones were thrown to the grownups in the audience too (what six year old would get the joke about Pirates sailing the "Redun Dun Sea"... and some of the adults weren't even quick enough to catch the "Sea of Chimpan" joke either). Of course the cast and kids were having so much fun that the grown-ups couldn't help but enjoy themselves even without the adult-targeted humor.

The Vital Theatre Company presented the show under the guise of "The Striking Viking Story Pirates." Each actor gave up his or her real name and took on a silly pirate persona like "Cap'n Paul Dangerous" and "Arrr! lene Hookster" or "Ten Finger Reilly." These Story Pirates mingled with the kids in the audience before and after the show, always in character, and always friendly pirates too.

Although the entire cast was excellent, the standout was (undoubtedly!) Leviathan Jones, who made his debut in here. Mr. Jones, a giant puppet Sea Monster, was way cooler than that no-talent hack Sigmund The Sea Monster, and is surely destined for a Tony Award. Jones and the lovely Phoebe GeeBee stole the audience's heart by singing a duet which boldly proclaimed their human/sea monster love and taught everyone that even sea monsters have inner beauty.

Production values were surprisingly high for children's theatre, and involved elaborate sets and costumes with some monster outfits that required three actors to operate! "Irving the Frog..." is must-see children's theatre ... even if you have to borrow someone else's kid to see it.

  Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby