Beckoning kids from about one to 92 to live theater during December is a winter tradition at Red Branch Theatre, where “Curious George and the Golden Meatball” offers a boisterous romp designed to capture the heart of any member of any family.
The adorable stage musical, based on the children’s books by Margret and H.A. Rey, follows the adventures of a lovable little monkey who’s appeared in three animated adventure comedies and an award-winning PBS television show since swinging onto the large screen a dozen years ago.
Directed here by Lynne Streeter Childress with musical direction and choreography by Dustin Merrell and Sarah Luckadoo, “Curious George and the Golden Meatball” (with music by John Kavanaugh and book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon) brings the popular character to life onstage.
The company’s opening performance of the “Curious George Theme” sets an upbeat tone; the adventure begins predictably on N Street at the apartment building where George (played by Hannah Fogler) lives with the Man in the Yellow Hat (Deion Dawodu).
Designer Jimmy Engelkemier’s lights rise on a pastel, storybook-like set that will easily transport George and his entire entourage — the Man in the Yellow Hat, Chef Pisghetti (Molly Mayne), Netti (Karen Shantz), the Doorman (Bryan Thompson) and Phinneas (Quincy Vicks) — from N Street to Pisghetti’s restaurant and all the way to Italy.
All the cast members except George play multiple roles, and Stefany Thomas’s many costumes are appropriate and pleasing.
Childress’ use of the surrounding sides of the theater in staging the show (George is heard at the back of the house before he is seen) draws the adventure close, particularly for wide-eyed young viewers.
The time is All You Can Meatball Day, and George is happily anticipating helping Chef Pisghetti prepare meatballs to feed a large crowd. His friend has even sent George his own chef’s hat by “Special Delivery” (a number that will be reprised as a standout solo by Vicks) all the way from Rome.
At the restaurant, George, Pisghetti and the company celebrate the special day in “A Dash of Joy,” but when it comes time to serve the delicious meatballs, no one shows up. For across the street, the antagonist of the story, Phinneas, has captured the crowd with his lightning-fast meatball making machine in “Who’s Got Time.”
Heartbroken, the dismayed Pisghetti vows he will never cook meatballs again. So George hatches a plot to help his friend recover his confidence by entering the chef’s tasty meatballs in the Golden Meatball Contest in faraway Rome.
How George manages to ship himself overseas and the fast-paced, zany adventures the cast and company encounter as they follow, touch hysterically on valuable life lessons. And through it all, George remains an excellent and faithful friend.
As George, Fogler is lively, athletic and convincing. She dances well, never misses a beat in step nor sentiment, and has George’s monkey language down pat. But her physical size requires some getting used to. Smaller children typically relate to Curious George as a peer and an adult-sized Curious George seems incongruent to the character.
Dawodu adapts to his character transitions so smoothly that most children will only recognize him as the familiar Man in the Yellow Hat. He sings, dances and performs well in all his numbers, but especially in “A Buddy Like You.”
Mayne, who also shines in “A Buddy Like You,” delivers excellent vocal performances as the passionate Chef Pisghetti. The actress crosses genders to portray the chef with ease, and her Italian accent (with dialect coaching by Sierra Young) is consistently good.
Shantz as Netti and Thompson as the Doorman also find their moments in the spotlight. Every character is integral; actors who can perform so well as part of an ensemble add value to any production.
But Vicks, who plays Phinneas and the delivery man, is the standout. His feet appear destined to create magic onstage, and his vocal performances and stage presence are outstanding.
A technically and musically savvy production, “Curious George and the Golden Meatball” eventually reveals Chef Pisghett’s secret meatball ingredient. And kids who are curious like Curious George will never be bored.