Theater company brings on the cheese
By HOLLY LEBER
Medill News Service
January 23, 2007 @ 4:48 AM
The Emerald City Theatre Company production of "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales," which opened Saturday at the Apollo Theatre, is a little stinky, definitely cheesy, and most certainly fairly stupid. "Fun for the whole family" is a popular tagline these days after all, some parental hearts might sink at the thought of an hour of unrelieved kiddy humor - but judging from Saturdays preview performance, this show is definitely just for the kids.
Based on the 1992 book by John Scieszka and Lane Smith, The Stinky Cheese Man adapted by John Glore and directed by Second Citys T.J. Shanoff, offers a twisted perspective on a number of basic fairy tales.
The show began before the actors took the stage, with cast member John Hall (The Giant, Foxy Loxy, other roles) skulking through the audience. Sneaking up behind kids and parents and yelling cow patty, he laughed maniacally. Surprisingly, most of the young audience, whose average age was about five, responded with giggles rather than frightened shrieks or tears.
Wearing a trench coat and fedora, Kristen Pickering (The Stinky Cheese Man and other roles) then arrived, in the guise of an overbearing Surgeon General, to explain the theater's rules and regulations. Sporting an exaggerated swagger and the worst Jersey accent this side of Hoboken, she warned the kids to turn off their cell phones (and that goes for youse adults too). Most of the children found it all very entertaining, but the lengthy preliminaries could be a problem for children with short attention spans.
The opening number, aptly named Opening Number, was a send-up of Handels Hallelujah chorus. The lyrics were you guessed it - Opening number! Opening number! Of the Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Goofy Tales. Thats not a misprint . Though the program lists the plays title as Fairly Stupid Tales, the opening song substituted the more politically correct goofy for stupid. The Emerald City Theatres Web site has a note to parents assuring them that the word stupid is not actually used within the play.
All of the actors play multiple roles, and audience participation was an essential part of the show. Seemingly delighted at the chance to be in the spotlight, children periodically came on stage for a little happy patter with the characters.
Actors Courtney Crouse (Jack, etc.) and Shelley Nixon (Chicken Licken et al.) were quite charming in their multiple roles. Crouses Ugly Duckling song about the importance of what is on the inside of a person was one of the shows moving moments. Unfortunately, Halls boorishness and Pickerings overdone vocals made them both nearly intolerable. In the Cinderumplestiltskin scene, Pickering seems to be channeling a nasal Fran Drescher straight out of The Nanny. Sadly, since this was live theater rather than television, changing the channel was not an option.
Some moments were borderline crass a few too many armpit and excrement jokes. A cow patty, that always hilarious bovine waste deposit, reappeared in the last moments of the show in the form of a five-foot replica hurled over the backdrop and onto the actors.
Of course, if youre five years old, or you have a five-year-old, you might not consider a show that begins and ends with a cow poop joke to be offensive. But some of the characters, especially a few played by Hall, might bother the parents of special needs children.
The shows few contemporary jokes - Turkey Lurky is in bed with avian flu or quizzing a little girl about whether she's afraid of snakes, spiders or Mel Gibson - will likely be over a childs head.
To the shows credit, the kids in the audience were definitely entertained for its full 60 minutes. Thats the whole point of a childrens show, I suppose. Tolerance, however, will be required of adult chaperones.
So take your children, but take your parent armor and maybe take an upper beforehand. Were putting you out of your misery by popular demand, said the actors towards the shows end.
"The Stinky Cheese Man" runs Jan. 20 through March 18. Performances are held at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. For more information, visitwww.emeraldcitytheatre.com. Call 773-935-6100 for tickets ($13 adults/$10 children.) Most appropriate for ages 3 to 8.