THE POINT of "A Good Life," a new musical commissioned by the Kennedy Center to be the centerpiece of its 10th annual Imagination Celebration arts festival, is to gently teach young audiences that death is a necessary part of life, and it succeeds with sensitivity and charm.
It's also a neat introduction to live theater, with a lively professional cast, sprightly tunes and the kind of simple stage magic that should develop a taste for more.
Composer Stanley Silverman and librettist/lyricist Jeff Moss based their show on a Russian folktale about a young soldier who is kind to three beggars on his way home from the war. In thanks, one gives him a magical sack that the soldier uses to rid the Tsar's palace of goblins, which in turn garners him the Tsar's gratitude, a princess for a wife, and a pretty good life indeed.
Later, the soldier uses a magic crystal globe that lets him see if sick people will die. When he himself is summoned by the gnomish hooded figure of Death, he tricks and traps Death in his magic sack. No one in the world can die, which the soldier comes to realize is not good, especially for the sick and suffering, so he releases Death and accepts his inevitable fate more cheerfully.
The songs cleverly blend strains of Russian melodies with contemporary pop, and director A.J. Antoon comes up with some nifty illusions in his modest staging. The cast is perky and personable, and the imaginatively costumed goblins are appropriately creepy-looking, but not too scary. Most important, "A Good Life" amuses and instructs without being saccharine or condescending to kids. And it doesn't neglect grownups, either -- there are several jokes built in for us, too.
A GOOD LIFE -- At the Kennedy Center Theater Lab, with free public performances (no tickets required; admission on a first-come, first-served basis -- arrive at least 20 minutes early) Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, noon and 2.