After the beautiful opening scene of Lyle the Crocodile, I’m holding my breath. Could the rest of the production be as good? An hour and a half later, I answer yes. This is children’s theater at its best.
I understand why Imagination Stage’s Artistic Director Janet Stanford wanted to revisit this show, which they originally produced in 2002. The script by Kevin Kling follows the Bernard Waber picture book story of a crocodile, Lyle, who moves into the Primm family’s Manhattan apartment and wins them over – though he’s not as successful with their nasty neighbor, Mr. Grumps. But this adaptation takes the story to another level thanks to all sorts of extras, including intelligent humor, thought-provoking sub-plots, and delightfully clever stage direction by Kathryn Chase Bryer.
It’s fun to see the adult audience laughing. How could we not? Take a preposterous premise and add word play, alliterative sequences, and good old-fashioned jokes with perfect delivery and you’ll make even the likes of Mr. Grumps laugh. And for little ones too young to get the more sophisticated humor, there is enough slapstick to keep them laughing, too.
The cast, without exception, gives an excellent performance. The story is narrated by Hector P. Valenti (Karl Kippola), Lyle’s former owner and friend. Kippola is an enigmatic actor who is also an accomplished dancer and singer. Mr. and Mrs. Primm (James J. Johnson and Misty Demory respectively) are strong too, working perfectly together as the parents of Lyle’s young friend Joshua Primm (Sean Silvia).
Also worth mentioning are Joe Brack and Linden Tailor who are as synchronized as any long time comedy duo. And despite changing roles throughout the show (first they’re moving men, then fire fighters, then police offers, then crocodiles,) they maintain a thematic banter (“You’re the jerk!” “No, you’re the jerk!”) suggesting a contentious and complicated partnership.
Kudos to Matthew McGloin as Lyle. It’s no mean feat to convincingly portray a lead character (particularly a crocodile!) without saying one word. McGloin, with his facial expressions, impressive gymnastics, and graceful dance moves, makes us love Lyle as much as the Primms do.
Conveying a strong sense of time and place, the sets (Jeremy W. Foil) are stunning. They give the impression of a book which transforms from a flat cityscape to a pop-up-like three dimensional view inside the Primms’ colorful apartment. Complementing the sets are costumes (Deb Sivigny) reminiscent of styles many of our parents and grandparents wore.
The choreographed numbers (Michael J. Bobbitt) and accompanying music (Christopher Youstra) are so thoroughly enjoyable I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing they went on longer. The choreography was fresh and lively, and handily executed by this group of seasoned actors.
Having cast members interact with the audience can be hard to pull off, but it works well here where the performers’ energy fills the whole theater. The kids loved knowing and telling the actors on stage where Lyle was, and were thrilled to scream out their answer when asked, “Should I give him one more chance?”
Lyle the Crocodile is a story of tolerance and appreciating differences – being liked “for what you are.” But the message as conveyed is subtle, not heavy-handed. Rarely is a children’s theater production equally entertaining for adults and kids. Everyone should see it.
Note: Bring an extra sweater as the theater gets very cold.
Lyle the Crocodile
based on the books by Bernard Waber . adapted for the stage by Kevin Kling
directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
produced by Imagination Stage
reviewed by Miriam Chernick
For Details, Directions, and Tickets, click here.