A Parent's Review: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Any play that ends with a giant cow patty toppling two of the actors is sure to get some laughs from a certain set. Apparently, my husband and I are that set because, although my daughters giggled, we were the ones with the belly laughs throughout the hour-long, no intermission show. If you're looking for a unique experience for your kids and going to the movies isn't your thing, Arden's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is the perfect alternative. To see when this show is running, or find other events in your area, be sure to check out our events calendar.

This was our first time at the Arden Theater Company’s children’s theater, and we were impressed. I hadn’t realized that, upon entering the theater’s building, there are two stages: a main stage on the lower level and second stage on the upper level where this production took place. When directed upstairs, we were greeted by pint-sized ushers who handed us our playbills. What a nice touch to have someone their age greet the intended audience.

Everything about the professional production appeals to children, and will get a chuckle out of adults, too. The stage is decorated with bright colors, plastic cups strung together on the sides and a literal mountain of recyclables as the background. While you're waiting for the show to begin, it can be fun to point out the different containers and toys scattered throughout the stage decor (the castle on top of the mountain of detergent containers and plastic bottles is the most obvious, but there are others).

There's singing and dancing and silliness, and the lyrics of the songs are simple but catchy.         

Because all of the fairytales in this production are spin-offs of classic tales that children have probably heard a hundred times, there are moments of recognition (one of my daughters said, “The Gingerbread Man!” when she heard the first line of The Stinky Cheese Man story), followed by some confusion when the story veers from its usual track, and laughter at the unexpected twists, turns and conclusion. There’s Chicken Licken, Cow Patty Boy, Little Red Runningshorts, Little Old Lady and Little Old Man, Princes and Princesses, Owl, Tortoise and Rabbit, Ugly Duckling and lots of other characters, all of whom are portrayed with inventive costumes (Cinderella literally wears dishrags, for example). Some stories see gender roles being reversed with one of the male actors playing a princess, which in itself elicited laughs. Others remake the fairytale into something closer to reality. Here, princesses take their fates into their own hands, frogs aren’t princes, and ugly ducklings stay ugly.

There was one moment when I started to feel a bit uncomfortable and thought, "Ugh, now my daughters are learning mean words." That was during the Ugly Duckling story when the poor Ugly Duckling is being bullied by all of the other ducklings in a not very nice song. However, the Ugly Duckling still has the last laugh. 

There is another part that is scary for the youngest or more sensitive viewers (my 4 year old daughters were scared, but they weren’t so scared that they ran out of the theater like when Ursula the Sea Witch came onstage once in a production of The Little Mermaid): the Giant. One of the conceits of the play is that Jack, otherwise known as the stage manager, is trying to keep the Giant sleeping by telling stories so he won’t eat Jack. At one point, two large eyes and a green hand big enough to grab Jack and drag him off stage are all we see of the Giant, but combining them with a booming voice is enough to create a convincing illusion for little viewers.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole show happens after the production is over when the scary hand of the Giant is brought out to the middle of the stage and turned around so that the audience can see how it works. The actors explain how the hand and how the eyes of the Giant work and demonstrate for the audience. They also show how the actors could appear and disappear through the trap door in the middle of the stage. And that big sack of cow patty that crushes the actors at the end: it turns out it's pretty light and couldn’t crush anything because it's mostly bubble wrap on the inside. The actors also took questions from the audience for about ten minutes, explained whatever was asked in kid-appropriate language and then came out to meet the kids in person.

The Stinky Cheese Man runs through June 12 and will appeal most to kids ages five to nine or ten, but everyone who’s read or has been read a fairytale will enjoy it.

Photo courtesy of the Arden Theater.