Sweet elixir

The Nastiest Drink in the World

Book & lyrics by Mark Lowenstern
Music by John Gregor
Directed by Carrie Libling
Vital Children's Theatre
432 West 42nd Street 3rd fl. (592-0129 or http://www.vitaltheatre.org)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 23)
Review by Doug DeVita

There was more fun per square minute in The Nastiest Drink in the World than the small stage at Vital Theatre can hold, and Carrie Libling's production of Mark Lowenstern and John Gregor's ebulliently snazzy musical burst out of the intimate space with raucous, contagious good cheer.

King Fredipus is always right, and he has the servants to tell him so! So imagine his surprise when one of his subjects, the timid yet tenacious Samantha, confronts him with his fallibility. How she does it gives the show its title, and its audience the chance to participate in some particularly inventive gross-out humor.

Lowenstern's book and lyrics are a bubbly concoction, perfectly in tune with Gregor's lilting score. And if Libling's direction occasionally ran riotously out-of-control, the boldly colored production's energy never flagged, the audience and performers frequently getting caught up in the sheer happiness of it all, and the level of detail was frequently astounding (especially Libling's use of color-coordinated props).

As Fredipus, Aaron Walters gave a joyously physical performance and invested his character with more than enough charm to keep his nastier attributes at bay. Kelly Hayes was a lovely, determined Samantha, while Craig Fitzpatrick, Dianna DiPalma, and Lee Overtree as Fredipus's advisors Primo, Segunda and Tertio were all brilliant, each one sweetly obsequious, delightfully dim, and boisterously beguiling as necessary.

As mentioned, the production was a riot of smartly conceived color,: from Roberto Sanchez-Camus's pop-up story book set complete with crazy crenellations, to Jenna Rossi's absolutely beautiful fairytale costumes, to the clear, slightly gelled lighting (uncredited). The Nastiest Drink in the World had a visual sophistication that was nearly on the level of a highly polished Broadway extravaganza.

The Nastiest Drink in the World is the third production under the auspices of Carrie Libling, Vital Theatre's new director of the children's theatre division. She had a tough act to follow with the departure of former director Bruce Merrill, but she has very quickly proved that she has been more than up to the task. Vital Children's Theatre continues as one of the smartest and most enjoyable places for provocative entertainment for all ages.

Box Score:

Book: 2 Lyrics: 2 Music: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita