'Lyle' Is Quite a Delight, and That's No Croc
By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, July 20, 2009
Imagination Stage's "Lyle the Crocodile" is a children's play with real artistic bite. Adapted from Bernard Waber's picture books, and recommended for ages 4 and up, the show features a remarkably witty script, deft acting, inventive choreography and canny design. Oh yes, and hula-hooping -- performed by Matthew McGloin, in the title role.
For those who don't know: Lyle is a showbiz-savvy crocodile who eats Turkish caviar and lives in New York City with a human family, the Primms. Mr. and Mrs. Primm (Misty Demory, James Johnson) and their son Joshua (the excellent 9-year-old Sean Silvia) adore their housemate but not their cranky neighbor, Mr. Grumps (Michael Glenn), whose wrath lands Lyle in various predicaments, including a stint at the zoo.
In director Kathryn Chase Bryer's production (Imagination Stage mounted a different version of the play in 2002), the escapades spin out against a cityscape whose rough-hewn lines and crayon-bright shadings evoke both a three-dimensional coloring book and Waber's original illustrations. The setup is roomy enough for pageantry (Lyle crashes a parade and briefly appears as the Phantom of the Opera) and Michael J. Bobbitt's smart choreography, which seems to reference ballet, the Rockettes, the Keystone Kops and "On the Town."
"Lyle" contains other allusions that adult audiences will relish. The Primms' doorbell is the vamp from Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York." Phrases from Beyonc's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" are heard in other scenes. (Christopher Youstra is music director and composer of the show's buoyant signature song.)
Turning cartwheels and riding a unicycle in his green costume and green sneakers, McGloin makes a fetching Lyle. Glenn's slouching, greasy-haired Mr. Grumps is a picture-perfect villain, and Karl Kippola delivers a droll interpretation of the mysterious, swaggering Hector P. Valenti, Lyle's onetime stage partner. Joe Brack and Linden Tailor are hilarious as moving men, firemen, guards and other incidental, and truculent, characters.
"I never dreamed I'd be taken for granite," a talking statue of Henry Hudson (Brack) grouches to Lyle at one point. This production will easily escape that fate.
Lyle the Crocodile, adapted by Kevin Kling from books by Bernard Waber. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer; lighting design, A.J. Guban; properties, Andrea "Dre" Moore; costumes, Deb Sivigny; sound, Matt Otto; movement specialist, Andrew Sonntag. With Melissa Graves. About 90 minutes.