Before the inevitable wave of holiday-themed family shows hits, other options have arrived. If you’re tired of tinsel and sated with Santa, there are a couple of festive new musicals to consider bringing the clan to. Both are suitable for children primary-school age and up, and can also engage and amuse adults.
‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’
Seattle Children’s Theatre ushers in winter with a cheery adaptation of a long-lived English folk tale, penned by playwright Jeff Church and adorned with chipper original songs by Seattle’s versatile Richard Gray.
Staged with aplomb by Allison Narver, this is an archetypal orphan-makes-good saga set in 18th-century London, with buddy protagonists: the plucky young Mr. Whittington (portrayed by Mike Spee) and Trueheart, his superhero cat. (The latter is played by a cute puppet, not a feline thespian.)
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Dick’s adventures, dotted with up-tempo tunes backed by live musicians, begin with a rat attack in a rodent-infested attic, and continue with getting lost in foggy London, and a sea voyage interrupted by a pirate seajacking.
Dick also visits an exotic kingdom led by a bizarro monarch (zany Jared Michael Brown), that’s embellished with Catherine Hunt’s splendid costumes.
Some droll dialogue and lyrics sailed over the heads of the younger tykes during a recent matinee. But they oohed over the kitty and hooted at the physical and sight gags (which the show could use a few more of).
The stagecraft, as per usual at SCT, is tiptop. Clever sets (by Carey Wong) suggest the atmospherics and architecture of long-ago London with whisked-around backdrops and facades. Dick sets sail in a pair of marvelous wooden boats: a little dingy, and a swell pirate vessel commandeered by fearsome Bloody Bess (Hana Lass). (There’s swordplay, of course.)
The cast of dandy jesters (also including composer Gray, Jayne Muirhead, Vickielee Wohlbach and others) mug and frolic and sing out the peppy score with zeal. “Dick Whittington and His Cat” could shed a few minutes, but as is it’s still a diverting musical romp.
The primly magical uber-nanny invented by writer P.L. Travers has logged a lot of flying miles and adds more to the odometer in Village Theatre’s staging of the hit Broadway musical “Mary Poppins.”
Yes, Mary does alight here — most satisfyingly at the end, when she soars above the audience to enthusiastic applause.
Wired for flight, in sparkling voice and trim suits of different hues, Cayman Ilika is a fetchingly unflappable Ms. Poppins.
Co-directed with flair by Steve Tomkins and Kathryn Van Meter, the Village airing of “Mary Poppins” can’t muster all the technical bells-and-whistles of the Broadway eyepopper or the Disney film that spawned it. But it’s chockablock with high-caliber performances, limited but evocative sets by Scott Fyfe and spirited renditions of the film tunes by Richard and Robert Sherman, and added songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Arriving in the Victorian-era home of the Banks family, Mary proceeds to unpack her bottomless satchel and dole out spoonfuls of sugar to two young charges she introduces to special friends and merry makers, starting with light-footed chimney sweep Bert (terrific Greg McCormick Allen).
The Sherman songs are catchy as ever, firing up such numbers as the “Stomp”-like tap romp “Step in Time” and the showstopping “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” In his revamp of the Disney script, Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) also added a dandy villain, with operatic ferocity: an aria-singing rival governess (aced by Mary Jo DuGaw).
On the downside, Fellowes also injected notes of dreary pop psychology into Travers’ far less touchy-feely tale. But this production treads lightly there. Even rigid, workaholic dad George Banks (a first-rate Andrew McGinn) isn’t a downer on this jolly holiday.
Misha Berson: email@example.com