Editors' pick

Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe

Children's Theater, Kid-Friendly

Editorial Review

'Roosevelt' carries a funny shtick

By Celia Wren
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Those Roosevelt scalawags are at it again. Kermit, Ethel and Archie -- endearingly obstreperous scions of America's 26th president -- unleashed all sorts of havoc in "Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major," a children's musical that frolicked into the Kennedy Center Family Theater three years ago. Now the show's creators, dramatist Tom Isbell and songwriter-political satirist Mark Russell, have concocted an equally witty and winning sequel: "Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe," a tale of holiday-themed high jinks at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (The production is recommended for age 7 and up.)

Engaging actors Alexander Strain, Jenna Sokolowski and Matthew McGloin return as Kermit, Ethel and Archie -- kids who are never happier than when smearing honey on White House doorknobs or lobbing snowballs at the Secret Service. In this new adventure, set in December 1905, the siblings scheme to install a Christmas tree in their home, an indulgence that their conservationist father (Michael Glenn) has forbidden, for fear of encouraging deforestation. Enlisting the help of their soon-to-be-married sister Alice (Susan Lynskey) and their father's valet (James J. Johnson), the terrible threesome pulls off a caper that involves a skillet, a samurai sword, Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" and the extremely corpulent secretary of war, William Howard Taft (Michael Russotto).

As they did in "Ursa Major," Isbell and Russell whip up a well-balanced eggnog of juvenile humor (Kermit, Ethel and Archie like to make farting noises when foreign dignitaries bow), jokes for adults (Roosevelt has a nightmarish vision in which Kermit grows up to be . . . a lobbyist), and allusions to U.S. history. Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland and Franklin Pierce all decorated Christmas trees, the Roosevelt young'uns inform their father.

"You don't want to have lower approval ratings than Franklin Pierce, do you, Pop?" Archie wheedles.

"You know I don't care a good hornswoggle about approval ratings," the former Rough Rider retorts.

But much of the comedy in this show is physical, with characters popping like gophers through the multiple doors in designer Dan Conway's set -- a knockout approximation of the early-20th-century Blue Room, complete with a circular settee and a polar bear rug. Director Gregg Henry (who also staged "Ursa Major") keeps the movement fast and seamless.

But the cannonball kinetics don't blur the characterizations. McGloin is particularly amusing as the imaginative Archie (whose antics include imitating a dehydrated platypus), and Lynskey swans around delightfully as the spoiled socialite Alice. Dressed in a gray frock coat (Debra Kim Sivigny created the handsome period costumes), his posture poker-straight, Glenn exudes carry-a-big-stick gravitas, and Russotto hits the right cartoonish note as the easily spooked Taft.

Written by Tom Isbell, with songs by Mark Russell. Directed by Gregg Henry; musical arrangements, Deborah Wicks La Puma; choreography, Ilona Kessell; lighting design, Andrew Cissna; sound, Elisheba Ittoop; properties artisan, Tim Jones. Approximately one hour. Recommended for age 7 and older. Through Dec. 30 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324, or visit http://www.kennedy-center.org.