We really love the shows put on by Atlantic for Kids. That's because they tend to be as much fun for parents as they are for children. I saw lots of adults cracking up at the theater troupe's latest family musical, a stage adaptation of author Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith's twisted take on The Three Little Pigs. In their version of the old tale, the Big Bad Wolf just has a big bad cold that leads to the swines' untimely demise. To say more would give too much away.
Even though the The Three Little Pigs is usually thought of as a story for very young children, this show isn't for preschoolers. Officially aimed at kids ages 5 to 12, I actually think it's best for tweens and up. It's very campy, and you need a wide frame of reference to get most of the jokes. Even though my six-year-old really enjoyed the show—she insisted we buy the book afterward—I definitely laughed a lot more than she did.
In order to turn the short children's book into an hour-long show, writer Robert Kauzlaric employed a really great framing device, with the wolf on trial for his alleged crimes against the citizens of Piggsylvania. This allowed him to add in lots of courtroom humor and comedic characters, like the narrator, a no-nonsense, His Gal Friday-type of reporter; a corrupt, show tune-loving judge; a pompous, flirtatious prosecutor and a sad-looking, suit-clad wolf.
Both sides present their evidence, with the prosecution mounting a puppet show within the show that makes the wolf look like a ravenous carnivore. But the defendant insists he's innocent and gives a very different account of his interactions with his neighbors the three little pigs.
The songs by Kauzlaric, Paul Gilvary and William Rush run the gamut from Broadway to gospel to pop, with many Beatles references. (I had fun counting how many Fab Four melodies and lyrics were quoted.)
But best of, the talented cast members—all students at the prestigious Atlantic Theater Company—never condescend to their young audience. You really get the sense that they love performing for kids. Chloe Wepper was particularly hilarious as the wacky judge, and Michael R. Piazza managed to make the wolf seem like a victim (or the best spin doctor this side of Karl Rove). In fact his side of the story was so convincing, the "jury"—a.k.a. the viewers—found him not guilty. It's the only bit of audience participation in the show, but a musical this funny doesn't need gimmicks like that to keep families totally engaged.
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs is playing at the Classic Stage Company through Sunday, October 30. Performances are at 10:30am every Saturday and Sunday. $20 for adults, $10 for children under 13
Looking for other great shows? See our review of The Little Prince at the New Victory and our roundup of the best shows to see this fall.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster