IF YOU GO
What: Musical adaptation of the popular children's book
When: 2 and 4 p.m. through June 24 (Saturdays and Sundays only)
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Cost: $25 adults, $10 students
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
Something else: Sit in the front row for a chance to interact with the cast - and get other fun surprises.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
Click. Clack. Moo.
Click. Clack. Moo.
The Naples Players opened their latest children's theatre show to a small crowd on Memorial Day weekend. It didn't stop the laughs as revolutionary-minded cows, chickens and ducks stage a barnyard takeover in "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type."
Adapted from Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin's "big pictures, little words" children's book by James E. Grote and George Howe, the show goes inside Farmer Brown's barnyard. The cows and hens want electric blankets and find an old typewriter to communicate their demands. Singing, dancing, mooing clucking and quacking commence.
The 408-word book goes from chilly bovines to clickety-clackety typewriter messages to cutesy ending in a brief 29 pages. Whimsical drawings and a half-dozen repetitions of the earwormish "click, clack, moo, click, clack moo" title pepper the silly story. Say it out loud a few times - and discover why the book is so popular with the pre-kindergarten set. Three sequels followed: "Giggle, Giggle, Quack," Dooby, Dooby, Moo" and "Thump, Quack, Moo."
This version - stretched to 75 minutes - fares rather less well. The adaptation tries (and fails) to turn the cutesy fable into an incomprehensible "Norma Rae" labor vs. management union struggle. Much of the book's charm gets lost in a wordy babble of cold barns, feuding cows, mooing, mooing and more mooing.
Transforming the story into an "Occupy Barnyard"-style romp (complete with "Les Miserables" barricades and banner) isn't a bad idea. The adaptation simply ignores what makes a kids show work - namely song and dance. While kids will adore the familiar characters and the attention-grabbing gimmicks like Silly String and buckets of glitter that go into the audience - they won't understand the story.
"Moo" fails at the wink-and-nod adult charm that characterized previous shows like "Pinkalicious," "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" or "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." The show goes on too long, with too few dance breaks, too few songs and too few laughs. Just five musical ditties break up the show; of those, only the (tapped) title number really satisfies. Full kudos though to Bonnie Knapp for tapping in Crocs!
Beyond that, the execution in the Naples Players verson just doesn't work all that well. Director Megan McCombs feels like she's playing the satirical material for keeps instead of for laughs. As a result, the show comes off flat instead of funny. The show needs at least an extra gear or three to fully realize the ridiculous spirit of the source material - and it just isn't there yet.
The show itself, as written, is not lively; nor do McCombs and choreographer Whitney Bunch do much to inject spirit into it. While the performers do their best to inject life into the show, "Click, Clack, Moo" often feels like a tedious slog from scene to scene. This barnyard comes across awfully quiet at times. The movement - especially for a children's show, which should be especially bouncy and zany - feels leaden, slow and not particularly vibrant. The one high point comes during the zippy "click, clack, moo" typewriter scenes.
But this is children's theatre. Everyone under the age of eight at the first performance loved it. I even giggled at some of the awesomely silly lyrics. Multiple youngsters tried to climb down into the audience at every turn, only to be restrained by parents - sometimes at a run as they noticed an escaped youngster slipping down the end of a row or over a seat.
Bright colors, exuberant costumes (from Dot Auchmoody) and silliness abound. Knapp's Duck arrives with bright yellow tights, sparkling wings and sunshine Crocs to simulate webbed feet. Hannah Killhour's Hen has more fluttering feathers, banana yellow shoes and tights plus a shimmering gold and ruby crest. Claire Skinner and Kristin Cassidy's Cow 1 & Cow 2 get white overalls with black patches and adorable floppy ears. Bob Hill looks every bit the gentleman farmer, with tattered straw hat, white beard, overalls and rosy cheeks.
Michael Santos perfectly captures the storybook's quirky feel with a red-shingled barn and yellow-clad farmhouse, as well as a scarecrow in one corner and cornfield in another. The painted floor - a work of art in and of itself - uses shades of gold, yellow and brown in varied brushstrokes to resemble a straw-strewn barnyard. Be sure to examine the props - the "straw" used in the hay bales and scarecrow is actually old foam padding or insulation.
Killhour breaks out as the cranky clucking Hen. Her improvised pecking in the background adds depth to the scenes; I wish McCombs had encouraged more in-character and animal-like interaction from her entire cast. Knapp's sassy Duck has a good ballad with "Oceans, Rivers and Waterfalls," while Skinner belts the poignant "An Electric Blanket Feels like Home." Cassidy, who stepped in for an injured Dolores Fetters just days before the show opened brings light-hearted sass to the revolutionary-minded Cow 2.
Your little ones won't get restless, but the show doesn't have quite the same zany, fast-paced plot as "Pinkalicious" or the easily digestible plot of "Mouse." The zany costumes and eye-catcing set offer plenty of distractions; sit in the front row for a chance to interact with the cast and join the fun.
What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef! Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.