Behold the latest Off Broadway children’s entertainment, “Freckleface Strawberry,” an hourlong tuner adapted from the picture books of the same name written by noted freckle-haver Julianne Moore. Brightly colored show retains little of the charm of LeUyen Pham’s lovely ink-and-brush illustrations, but does feature a couple of standout perfs from a wide-eyed Mykal Kilgore and an Eeyore-ish Andrew Cristi, both of whom manage to overcome the unimaginative direction of Buddy Crutchfield and the lyrical stylings of composer/lyricist/co-librettist Gary Kupper, who thinks that “Danny” rhymes with “Harry.”
Hayley Podschun is Strawberry, a seven-year-old girl whose most distinguishing feature among children named Jake, Jane and Emily is not her unusual name but a preponderance of concentrated melanin deposits across her face, arms and legs. These become the subject of much heartache and musicianship, with Dave Keyes conducting some attractively doo-wop-ish arrangments of Kupper’s tunes, which are considerably better than his lyrics.
Cristi plays Jake, an Encyclopedia Brown type who seems wise beyond his single-digit years, but never cloying or too precocious. Kilgore plays Harry and a nightmare version of one of Strawberry’s unwanted freckles, imagined as a mob boss whose Brando-ish bearing is probably lost on most of the kids (“Who’s going to be oblimerated?” asked one of the shorter patrons during this confusing sequence).
Like several of the tyke tuners at New World Stages, the tech aspects here are the most impressive part of the package, with a couple of missteps in an otherwise pleasant design from costumers Fabio Toblini and Holly Cain (am I older than I think I am, or is it inappropriate for grade-schoolers to wear thigh-highs?). Beowulf Boritt’s set is, as usual, aces. Stageside merch tie-ins are adroit and numerous.