Helen Hayes nominee Valerie Leonard has likely not had to jump and pounce and cajole and herd a troupe of monkeys for a role before, but as Mama, she ratchets up the loving energy and keeps up with all five in this lively and adorable production.
Leonard definitely has her hands full as the five frisky sibling monkeys get into all kinds of monkey-shines and mischief, first as they try to bake her a surprise Birthday cake, then go shopping for clothes, and other mundane excursions. Actually, nothing can be considered mundane when five little monkeys are around. Suffice it to say that havoc will ensue, and it does, as expected.
All five are played by seasoned performers and it shows. They are terrific. Jacob Yeh as the eldest Monkey #1 is quickly assuming the mantel of seasoned family theater performer having recently sparkled in Pnokio: A Hip Hop Musical at Imagination Stage. He leads the bunch down various paths and routines with a full command of his character.
Little ones will definitely relate to Ben Lurye as youngest Monkey #5 who gets the left over attention, is shy and trepidatious but still eagerly tries to keep up with the group. (Lurye as the sales associate in the Department store is a knock out, by the way). Katie Culligan, Joey Ibanez and Aviva Pressman round out the bunch, hanging on the, well, monkey bars, part of the set nicely designed by Rob Berry, juggling, performing hand stands—these tykes are all over the place providing delirious fun for all, keenly directed by Karin Abromaitis.
Costumes by Katie Touart help to differentiate the brood with distinctive colors and even their numbers prominently placed on their shirts. Leggings and shirtsleeves simulating hairy legs and arms for the guys complete the look. An ingenious ploy is the use of standup cardboard in place of the character to allow double casting as the scenes flow along. When several end up missing in the mall and are finally retrieved, Mama is relieved as she starts to count them up, but the numbers keep going after five. She almost needs resuscitation before they explain that friends have joined for a quick play date. It’s a fun feature that keeps the audience on their toes and fully engaged to keep up.
Finally, just when you think the little monkeys have worn themselves down to a frazzle, then its bedtime and all get cleaned up, complete with communal tooth brushing, fun-filled direction by Abromaitis, are tucked into their respective spots under the covers, but then, uh oh, the main theme has to play out with monkeys jumping on the bed and, well, who doesn’t know the rest? Suffice it to say that each of the monkeys displays his or her own unique style of dizziness and discomfort upon acting out the rest of the well-known rhyme, and it’s fun to watch the countdown. And Leonard’s reaction as Mama tops the charts in her exuberance when everyone is accounted for and all is well in the end.
Adventure Theatre MTC offers yet another fun-filled world premiere brimming with imagination and energetic appeal as part of their trademark, featuring the finest actors in the metropolitan region. The next production, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, to be directed by Jeremy Skidmore will star Michael Russotto.
Five Little Monkeys
Based on Series of Books by Eileen Christelow
Adapted for the stage by Ernie Nolan
Produced by Adventure Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Running Time: 1 hour with no intermission