“The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip” is purportedly for ages 6 and up, and in fighting to fit the old cliche “6 to 60,” it ends up a hybrid that doesn’t comfortably connect on any level. Based on George Saunders’ book, “Gappers” is curiously tame and uninvolving, despite some imaginative directorial flourishes by Corey Madden and the presence of Jamey Hood, who tackles her offbeat part as if she believed every word.
Gappers, we quickly learn, are furry, orange, tennis-ball-sized intruders with 15 eyes who live in the seaside town of Frip. They jump on the area’s goats and burrow into their coats so consistently that the Gapper-glutted goats stop giving milk. Since milk is Frip’s main economic source, this situation causes havoc, and children are enlisted to brush goats daily and heave the Gappers into the ocean.
Much depends on the effectiveness of the Gappers, and although these creatures sing and populate the Kirk Douglas stage with titular persistence, they have no individuality or personality. More seriously, they don’t present a sense of danger: There’s no one to hiss or root for here. Terror and rage rarely surface, as though the creators of this musical thought such hard-hitting emotions would be unsettling for their juvenile spectators.
In the absence of any substantial villains, librettist Doug Cooney’s protagonists have little to butt their heads against. Lena Gwendolyn Hill and Olivia Killingsworth each portray major male and female characters, and their talent can’t overcome hollow conceptions. Sonja Alarr does a shrilly entertaining parody (“It’s a Miracle”), but she also seems stereotypical, a gag rather than a person.
Touches of tension are suggested when the scheming Gappers focus their full attention on goats belonging to the appropriately named Capable (Hood), and Capable’s neighbors selfishly allow her to handle the problem without offering help.
Hood conveys believable resentment, making the most of affectionate scenes with her dad, played by Hubert Hodgin, who periodically transcends his thin role.
Tom Beyer offers a spirited turn as the father and mother of two spunky daughters.
Songs by David O (musical director of “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World”) have the sound of a college prodigy who can invent enough atonal harmonies and erratic interval leaps to get an A. His melodies are so crammed with complexity that the tunes offer little a child, or adult, can remember. A few, like “Easy Does It,” illustrate otherwise unused capacity for simplicity. A score this demanding also requires outstanding vocals, but voices here are only adequate.
Another miscalculation is the static, stationary nature of the goats, which are mounted on wheels and never come alive. This denies choreographer Mary Ann Kellogg any opportunity for movement and dance. The sight of goats kicking and squealing under Gapper attack would have stirred up the proceedings and made children howl with laughter.
Since memorable music and dramatic spark are in short supply, “Gappers” needs plenty of humor, and Doug Cooney’s script and lyrics attempt to fill the gap. Some of his lyrics overreach, and jokes get too corny (“What do you get when you cross a goat with a duck?” “A goat who wakes up at the quack of dawn”). But he maintains a welcome, unsentimental tone.
Absence of enchantment is accentuated by uninspired costumes and dark lighting. The whole enterprise feels conceived by adults who lack a basic grasp of the ingredients that captivate children.