The family-oriented TheaterWorksUSA’s latest musical adaptation of the best-selling children’s novels of Dav Pilkey is Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical, an exuberant colorful one-hour irreverent entertainment for children of all ages. Written by Kevin Del Aguila (book and lyrics) and Brad Alexander (music) who previously wrote the highly successful Dog Man: The Musical from the earlier Pilkey series, Cat Kid Comic Club is surprisingly faithful to the book of the same name and will not disappoint its many fans. With clever and imaginative direction by Marlo Hunter and her design team which uses puppets as well as live actors, the hard-working cast of six (almost all of whom appeared in TheaterWorks’ Dog Man musical) play multiple roles to tell this hilarious and surprising story.
When 21 parentless, unsupervised tadpoles are causing trouble to the city by the swamp, Flippy Fish (James LaVerdiere) agrees to adopt them. But very quickly he finds the rambunctious frogs are too much for him. When Cat Kid and Molly Pollywog (Sonia Roman playing both roles) offer to start an epic comic book writing club to keep them busy and to redirect their imaginations, Flippy is thrilled with the solution.
Immediately, Naomi (Markia Nicole Smith) and Melvin (Dan Rosales) can’t seem to get along and appear to be fighting over everything even though they are sister and brother. However, when imaginations run riot as kids will and they come up with comics about death, butts and murder, the perturbed Flippy announces that all comics from now on must be wholesome and decent, causing all the tadpoles to quit. Will the club survive and will the immature frogs learn to get along?
The score by Del Aguila and Alexander is made up of 11 witty and bouncy songs many of which dramatize the tadpoles’ comics, taking their cues from Pilkey’s graphic novel: Melvin’s “Dennis The Toothbrush Lawyer for Dinosaurs,” Curly’s “Supa Fail!” Poppy’s “The Cute, Little, Fluffy Cloud of Death,” Pedro’s “Chubbs McSpiderbutt,” Starla’s “Birds, Flowers, Trees,” Melvin’s “My Sister, Naomi” and the big finale, “The Mega-gigantic, Humonga-normous Comic Club Party!”
The dialogue and story also teach lessons about sexism and parenting. Naomi finally convinces Melvin that girls have a harder time than boys and that he should listen to her more often and not ignore her opinions. It also teaches about different meanings of the word “perspective” which is another valuable lesson. Flippy discovers that being too strict is too restrictive to children’s imaginations and that they need a certain amount of freedom in order to develop their creativity. Being given some rules and regulations turns out to not be such a bad thing.
Each member of the cast brings his or her own character to life a different way, as well as making their additional roles separate. Sonia Roman’s Cat Kid is an amiable host and emcee. The Flippy of James LaVerdiere is easily exasperated and flies off the handle at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary. Markia Nicole Smith’s Naomi is boisterous and not easy to miss. Dan Rosales’ Melvin is a cry baby who has trouble solving his own problems. Brian Owen is very self-effacing as the somewhat dim Curly, but very exuberant as the carnival barker and Chubbs McSpiderbutt. As the retiring Starla, L.R. Davidson appears to be the wisest one of all and ends up stating the show’s message.
The colorful cartoon-like sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes in a rainbow of colors: Cameron Anderson’s settings are cartoons come to life in three dimensions, enhanced by David Lander’s lighting design. The costumes by Jen Caprio are a riot of color putting each character in different neon hues: bright yellow, orange, red, blue, purple and green. Puppet designer Acheson Walsh Studios has created the green Molly Pollywog, and the 16 candy- colored tadpole students not played by the actors which look exactly like giant lollipops (props master Emmarose Campbell).
Co-sound designers Scott Stauffer and Jesse Desrosiers are responsible for the explosions that begin the show as well as the sounds that punctuate the dramatization of the tadpoles’ comics. Music director Paul Staroba keeps the score buoyant throughout the performance which includes various genres and styles of music from Broadway to Country and Western. Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical is fun for the whole family. Those who have read the books will be highly pleased that it is both faithful and rollicking. Even parents will find things to like and maybe learn a few lessons along the way.
Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical (through August 27, 2023)
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, between Bleecker and Hudson Streets, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.twusa.org
Running time: one hour and ten minutes without an intermission