The King Is Always Right—Not!

The Nastiest Drink in the World

Book and lyrics by Mark Loewenstern
Music by John Gregor
Directed by Linda Ames Key
Musical direction by Dax Valdes
Vital Children’s Theatre
McGinn-Cazale Theater (2162 Broadway at 76th St., 4th fl.;
Tickets:; 866/811-4111 or 212/352-3101
Non-union production (closes Oct. 16)
Review by Deborah S Greenhut

You might think that a kingdom run by the uncorrectable, but often mistaken, King Fredipus (Dan Kolodny) would be a colorless, dismal, even frightening place. But you’d be wrong.

The authors, director, and choreographer (Dax Valdes), and costume (Sylvie Marc Charles), lighting (Rie Ono), and set (Jess Hooks) designers deliciously conspired to provide a colorful, madcap hour of escapist fun in the aptly named Kingdom of Baloneya. Lights (Shuhei Sho) and a simple but clever set of drapes contributed to the drama as a little girl, Samantha, played smartly by the well-cast Julie Brooks, challenges the King’s ego to save her village. Stage Manager Amy Gargan certainly had her capable hands full during a theatrical nightmare sequence where lighting and an inventive use of hands and drapes contributed to the puppet-like drama of Samantha’s challenge to the King.

The question is: who can tell the King that he’s made a mistake? The early action of the play centers on his advisers’ unwillingness to do that. They are too frightened. The situation changes, though, when King Fredipus’s magic spell produces an unwelcome result for the town below the castle. Fredipus tries to blow it off, but Samantha persists, conspiring with the weak-willed advisers to catch the king in his own mistake. And yes, it did involve a wonderfully nasty drink, and mayhem.

This production’s aim was true -- right to the gross-out funny bone, including cartoon pratfalls and amusingly awful concoctions -- all propelled by delightful music, witty lyrics, and occasional winks at the adults in the crowd. The Nastiest Drink in the World offered plenty of funhouse-mirror looks at childish behavior by adults, but it never lost its primary aim: entertainment. There was plenty of that in the kiss-up behavior of the King’s three useless advisors: Primo, played by Chris Janssen, whose facial expressions and physical comedy occasioned numerous raucous outbursts; Segunda (Brooke Lyn Hetrick), caught in the middle and trying with comic desperation to mediate; and last, but not least, given his Stan Laurel-esque height and facial expressions, Michael Huber as Tertio. Kolodny, while enduring and denying the conventional slapstick humiliations, including the familar split pants, gave the King’s personality enough edge to strike a little fear in the hearts of the crowd, but this was always nicely counteracted by the fools. The cast was well-prepared for anything during the audience participation sequences -- Tertio (Michael Huber), in particular, adlibbed well with unexpectedly spunky comments from the front row. It was all received in fun.

The lesson of the play is carried perfectly by the song, “Speak up Samantha,” conveyed poignantly by the lovely voiced Brooks -- a coaching moment well worth the price of admission! In the world of Baloneya, even kings can learn how to behave. Now, if only real-world leaders would learn to blink….

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2005 Deborah S Greenhut