Theater reviews: “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!’ ” and “Lyle the Crocodile.”


Mr. Primm (Jobari Parker-Namdar) surprises Lyle (Kurt Boehm) in the musical “Lyle the Crocodile” at Imagination Stage, now through January 10. (Margot Schulman)
November 29, 2013

Holiday parties of all descriptions are in the pipeline around the region. But few festive gatherings will be as zoologically notable as those in two children’s musicals, “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!’ ” at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, and “Lyle the Crocodile” at Imagination Stage.

In the former, two amiable beasties dress up for a swanky costume pool party (think top hat, carnival mask and toucan-shaped flotation device). In the latter, a tap-dancing croc participates in group ice skating and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s enough to make black-tie and eggnog seem positively tame.

A world premiere that is gently paced and resolutely un-busy, “Elephant & Piggie’s ‘We Are in a Play!’ ” draws on the book series about best-buddy critters by best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems. Willems wrote the script and lyrics, and Deborah Wicks La Puma supplied the jazz-flavored score. Directed by Jerry Whiddon, the show is recommended by the Kennedy Center for ages 4 and up, but the 4-year-old who accompanied me was restless during some of the more reflective songs, as well as the leisurely ending, in which the title characters realize, and discuss the fact, that they are in a play.

Those with more robust attention spans will relish the terrific lead performances by Evan Casey and Lauren Williams. His hair askew, his movements lumbering, his eyes peering in frequently startled fashion through black-frame glasses, Casey plays Elephant Gerald, a worrywart who adores his best friend, Piggie. Beaming and skipping around, Williams’s adorable Piggie exudes carefree exuberance; excitement often ratchets her voice up into a squeal. Designer Kathleen Geldard’s subtle costuming hints at the characters’ animal natures: Casey’s gray jacket and trousers signal an elephant’s hide, with his tie standing in for a trunk; Williams’s pink dress and tights nod at a porcine look.

A trio of minidress- and boa-sporting characters, the Squirrelles (Ashleigh King, Brittany Baratz and Deborah Lubega, channeling a brassy singing trio in one of the show’s witty touches), appears now and then. But the focus is on the title characters: Piggie’s delight in a new toy, which Elephant seems to accidentally break; Elephant’s quandary over whether to share an ice cream cone with Piggie; the aforementioned dress-up pool party; and so on.

Audiences who enjoyed the previous Willems adaptation “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical,” which premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2010, will find this piece is quieter, with less to look at.

By contrast, there’s loads to look at in “Lyle the Crocodile,” director Kathryn Chase Bryer’s rendering of a musical based on Bernard Waber’s books. Bryer staged the straight-play version of “Lyle” that Imagination Stage mounted in 2009; she repeats her supervising duties with this musical version, adapted by Kevin Kling, with an ebullient score by Richard Gray, who sometimes seems to be channeling “On the Town” for the lunchbox set. Recommended by Imagination Stage for ages 4 to 12, the show relates the adventures that ensue after Mr. and Mrs. Primm (Jobari Parker-Namdar and Ashley Foughty) and their son Joshua (David Landstrom) discover a courteous crocodile in the New York City apartment that they have just moved into.

Kurt Boehm, who makes an endearing and fleet-footed Lyle — in a green-check suit, with a crocodile snout atop his head — also devised the show’s choreography, which samples tap, Roaring Twenties dance and the Rockettes, and generally suggests the brash liveliness of the Big Apple in the 1950s, when the tale is set. It’s a city well stocked with eccentrics, including the Primms’ cranky neighbor Mr. Grumps (Michael John Casey), the fussy but kind-hearted Ms. Nitpicker (Brynn Tucker) and especially the mysterious and flamboyant stage and screen star Hector P. Valenti (a diverting Matthew Schleigh), who has a habit of turning up everywhere.

A.J. Guban’s streetscape set becomes a background for Frank Labovitz’s colorful retro costumes, which are awash in patterns and colors. Valenti alone wears spats of multiple shades. End-of-year celebrations sometimes demand snazzy get-up; Bryer, Boehm and their colleagues have certainly turned “Lyle” out in fetching guise.

style@washpost.com

Wren is a freelance writer.

Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!”

Based on the books by Mo Willems; script and lyrics by Willems; music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. Directed by Jerry Whiddon; music direction, George Fulginiti-Shakar; choreography, Jessica Hartman; scenic design, James Kronzer; lighting, Kyle Grant; sound, Elisheba Ittoop; properties, Dreama J. Greaves. About one hour. Tickets, $20. Through Dec. 31 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324, or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

Lyle the Crocodile

Based on the books by Bernard Waber; adapted by Kevin Kling; music, Richard Gray. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer; lighting design, Brittany Diliberto; sound, Christopher Baine. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $10-40. Through Jan. 10 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or visit www.imaginationstage.org.

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