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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review- The Selfish Giant (1st Irish)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

Growing up can be rough; it's hard to leave behind all the wonderful, fanciful, joyous things than make up childhood and navigate the more somber realm of adulthood. But if you keep that little child inside you alive, and let them out every now and then to play, you're sure to reap the benefits of giving in to your more whimsical side.

This is not just the theme running through Literally Alive's production of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant adapted by Michael Sgouros & Brenda Bell (Directed by Brenda Bell) but also the attitude that got hold of me as I attended the show.  Because, frankly, it's been a long time since I sat in a theatre and just gave myself over to my inner child, delighting in the tales of a giant, and his garden, of birds that can talk, of weather that can tap dance and of seasons that refuse to change until someone learns their lesson.

What I loved about visiting Literally Alive Children's Theatre is that they began the show with some simple rules that could have been deemed "Everything I know about theatre etiquette I learned in kindergarten".  A wonderful woman explained to the children that there would be loud sounds ... but not to be afraid.  She explained that at home the actors on TV can't hear you when you talk, but in a theatre they can so we have to be what?  "Quiet!" the crowd chirped.  "And we're going to turn the lights out in a moment, and the theatre will get very, very dark.  But don't worry, very soon the lights will come back on in a very surprising way!"  A part of me wished that this woman would come to every one of the productions I attended and remind all the "adults" that talking during a show was rude, not respecting the actors was bad, and not being nice to the people around you by squirming in your seat was disruptive.  Words to live by!

The Selfish Giant is a very simple musical based on an Oscar Wilde story in which a Giant is ... Selfish.  Another reason to love children's theatre - the title isn't misleading or purposely vague like so many others.  All the instruments that play during the performance are percussion - a xylophone, drums, some fun ones that make odd noises and sound effects when they're struck, and they're played by Michael Sgouros (who is the composer and Musical director as well) Emily Sgouros, and Kristin Smith.  The combination of these instruments is surprisingly rich - I thought I'd miss such staples as the piano or the guitar  but the music is so catchy and well performed that it's wonderful exactly as it is.

Eric Fletcher plays the giant (in Gene Simmons towering boots) as well as Oscar Wilde (who serves as a narrator of sorts).  Brianna Hurley plays his faithful servant Martha who for some reason has a thick eastern European accent... but hey, this is children's theatre so there's no need for everyone to sound the same.  Ms. Hurley also plays Sparky, a comical penguin.  Most appealing to children are Stefanie Smith (choreographer) and Dustin Cross who both play a number of characters.  These two team up in several different forms; sometimes as spirits who dance about like giant sized Tinkerbells, sometimes as wisecracking vaudeville type birds Myrtle and Gladys (which children found particularly funny), and sometimes as tap dancing weather (Hailey and Hector).  

With sets partially designed by the children who attend the performance, and personal handshakes to each of the children afterwards, Literally Alive does a great deal to make their little guests feel special... which goes a long way towards making their bigger guests feel special too.  With the freedom to wiggle joyfully to the music and clap loudly, or laugh delightedly, this show was a winner for children of all ages.  With a great message of sharing, and some catchy music, The Selfish Giant will put a smile on your face.

Literally Alice Children's Theatre and 1st Irish Theatre Festival present
The Selfish Giant
September 13-October 25, 2009
The Players Theatre

Tickets are $25-50. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit

The Players Theatre | 115 MacDougal Street | Manhattan.

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