The holidays have long since passed into memory, with no more Scrooges, Tiny Tims or Nutcracker princes on area stages. But there’s still plenty of live theater to engage younger audiences. Add these shows to your children’s winter schedule:
A Bayou-bred duck sings and schemes her way out of the clutches — well, the jaws — of a hungry gourmet alligator named Claude in Adventure Theatre MTC’s revival of Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood, Washington writer, composer and lyricist Joan Cushing’s adaptation of Mike Artell’s 2001 picture book. (Do check out the book’s gorgeous illustrations by Jim Harris.)
“I use the word rarely, but I think she’s a genius,” says Michael J. Bobbitt, the show’s director and choreographer, who also runs Adventure Theatre MTC.
Cushing, he says, “just has the gift of tunes and lyrics. There’s not one song I’ve ever heard of hers that’s not something you can sing and remember easily . . . even if you’re not familiar with a New Orleans sound, you still feel connected to the music.”
Cushing says she was delighted when Bethesda’s Imagination Stage commissioned her to adapt “Petite Rouge” a few years ago.
“It’s a very rich book, and I’ve always had a love affair with New Orleans and I thought it would be fun to write music to,” says Cushing, who gave the narrative some of her own twists. “In my story, I have Claude [the gator], who is a chef . . . and he chases them through the whole thing. I take them on a riverboat ride . . . I take them to Mardi Gras. . . . I got to use all those things.”
“Petite Rouge” premiered in 2005 at Imagination Stage and made a splash in 2007 at the New York Musical Theater Festival, both times with Bobbitt at the helm. It has become a popular piece at theaters for young audiences, with, by Cushing’s count, more than 30 productions.
The show runs only an hour, but it’s stuffed with 16 songs and five dance numbers. Besides a duck as Little Red Riding Hood and a gator as the Wolf from the traditional tale, there’s a Swamp Chorus made up of a turtle, a frog and a crayfish, who narrate and take on multiple supporting roles and dance steps.
“It’s a celebration of New Orleans culture,” Bobbitt says. “I really wanted to imbue the piece with lots of choreography.”
(Note to parents: Bobbitt says the 2009 Disney film “The Princess and the Frog” (G), could give little ones a nice advance taste of New Orleans style.)
“Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood,” Jan. 30-March 8 at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org. $19. Age 4 and older.
Over at Arena Stage, kids 10 and older can test their sleuthing skills in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, a premiere by Ken Ludwig, a Washington playwright with Broadway and London credits (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Shakespeare in Hollywood”), produced by Arena and New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center. In Ludwig’s rendering of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” Gregory Wooddell plays a young, handsome Holmes and Lucas Hall an equally youthful Dr. Watson. Just three actors — Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch — play more than 40 other roles.
Ludwig’s approach plays up the comedy but maintains the story’s suspense, Wooddell says.
“Something that we’re all working toward is having a lot of fun and a lot of laughs,” he says, “but still maintaining the true mystery that’s inherent in the story. . . . The Holmes and Watson characters, they go through this kind of madcap world with all these wacky characters, but . . . there’s this mystery that they’re trying to solve.”
Ludwig, whose “Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol” premiered at Adventure Theatre MTC over the holidays, says he’s not a Sherlock fanatic — just a regular fan who was intrigued by the “Baskerville” tale.
“We crave these two mythic figures who solve problems. I was drawn to it. . . . I hope this is really an eye-opener for kids who will come to love — hopefully through this piece — the theater.”
“Baskerville,” through Feb. 22 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org. $45-$90. Age 7 and older.
Here are a few more family-friendly shows at area theaters, some more appropriate for older kids and teens.
Mockingbird, at the Kennedy Center, is based on the award-winning novel by Kathryn Erskine and adapted by playwright Julie Jensen. The drama follows an 11-year-old girl on the autism spectrum who must adjust to life without her older brother, who always helped her interpret the world. Through Feb. 1 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. $20. Age 10 and older. Sensory-friendly performances Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Jan. 31 at 11 a.m.
Gigi, also at the Kennedy Center, should appeal to older kids and teens. The musical, starring Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) and directed by Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer, is here for four weeks before heading to Broadway. The show, adapted by Heidi Thomas (“Call the Midwife”), is based on the 1958 movie musical and the original story by French writer Colette about a fin-de-siecle Parisian girl being groomed as an upscale courtesan. The producers say, however, that it’s all quite “chaste.” Through Feb. 12 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. $45-$145. Age 10 and older.
The always-engaging Puppet Company, which performs in Glen Echo Park a few doors down from Adventure Theatre MTC, has just opened Circus!, billed as the “grandest show on strings.” Through Feb. 15 at the Puppet Company Playhouse, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-5380. www.thepuppetco.org. $10, free for children age 2 and younger. All ages.
The Widow Lincoln, at Ford’s Theatre, is a new play by James Still (“The Heavens Are Hung in Black”) that dramatizes Mary Todd Lincoln’s tumultuous life immediately after the assassination of her husband. It was commissioned as part of the theater’s 150-year commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s death. Probably best for history buffs, not fidgeters. Through Feb. 22 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. 202-347-4833. www.fords.org. $20-$72. Age 12 and older.
Godspell kicks off the 2015 season at Olney Theatre Center. Stephen Schwartz’s ever-popular musical (conceived by John-Michael Tebelak) debuted off-Broadway in 1971 and on Broadway in 1976. It retells the Gospel of Matthew in such rock-pop anthems as “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and “Day by Day.” Feb. 4-March 1 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. 301-924-3400. www.olney theatre.org. $18-$75. Age 7 and older.
Wiley and the Hairy Man, at Imagination Stage, dramatizes a traditional folk tale about a boy who must face down a bullying trickster in a swamp. The script is by Suzan Zeder and the music by Harry Pickens. Feb. 11-March 15 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. www.imaginationstage.org. $10-$30. Age 6 and older.
Much Ado About Nothing, at Synetic Theater, is another of the company’s “wordless” Shakespeare adaptations, using movement, music and dance to tell the tale. It’s set in 1950s Las Vegas, so the Bard’s comedy about the argumentative not-quite-lovers Beatrice and Benedick will, we’re told, includes some “stylized” sexual heat and a bit of 1950s drug use. Feb. 11-March 22 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 866-811-4111. www.synetic theater.org. $20-$95. Age 14 and older.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.