Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler’s “Dear Edwina” calls itself “a musical comedy for kids,” but that tagline somewhat undersells it. The characters are kids, the subject matter is kid-friendly, but there’s enough musical comedy for general audiences in this darling little show, filled with songs and laughs.
Action centers around a backyard performance by 13-year-old Edwina Spoonapple (Janice Mays) and friends, auditioning for the Kalamazoo Advice-a-Palooza Festival. Show-within-show consists of a series of letters from kids seeking advice on manners, shyness, crushes — the usual kid stuff. Letters and responses are set to songs, some short and some long. Just about all are good, and a few — “Frankenguest,” “Fork, Knife, Spoon,” “Hola, Lola,” the indescribably droll “Put It in the Piggy” — are joyously wonderful.
The cast is filled with just-out-of-college faces, many making their professional New York debuts. Tyler Adcock is winning as Edwina’s new neighbor, drafted to participate in the fun, while Ernie Pruneda is properly awkward and endearing as the boy with a severe crush on the title character.
The three backyard backups have the most fun, with various characters to play. Katie Whetsell scores as the dancing kid in leg warmers, with a winning turn as shy Lola from Peru; Shannon Tyo, as a well-mannered Girl Scout, also surprises us as a pork-rind cousin from the farm; and natural comedian Doug Thompson might have the best of it, transforming himself into an uncouth monster and otherwise hamming it up.
Least distinctive, oddly enough, is Mays’ Edwina. Often overshadowed by her cohorts, it might be that she simply has less showy material. In any event, Mays does have the finest number — “Sing Your Own Song” — and makes the most of it.
Much of the magic is contributed by director Timothy A. McDonald and choreographer Steven G. Kennedy. Both provide layer upon layer of detail; their numerous delicious touches enhance the already funny lyrics, pulling some unexpected belly laughs from children and adults in the audience.
Kennedy’s work is especially deft. He scores with such off-the-cuff nonsense as a Swedish ski step, and that “Piggy” number is — to quote one of the characters — “really bakin’!” (or perhaps bacon). Joe Kinosian leads the two-piece band from his keyboard, and as Edwina’s older brother contributes his own laughs as well.
Tuner has traveled a surprising route to New York. “Dear Edwina” dates back more than a decade to Goldrich and Heisler’s days with Professor Maury Yeston at the BMI Workshop. With no likely venues for their “Edwina” musings, the piece was launched as a title for amateur groups in 1998 and is continually performed in schools. Producer Daryl Roth — who recently instituted a “Kids Theater” policy at the DR2 Theater off Union Square — drafted “Dear Edwina” as the scheme’s centerpiece, providing a long-overdue professional New York debut.
A studio cast album — filled with Broadway pals of the authors like Kerry Butler, Rebecca Luker, Andrea Burns, Danny Burstein and Terrence Mann — is being released next week by PS Classics.
With any luck and perhaps another 10 minutes of material, this savvy tuner could attract enough biz to continue past the announced Jan. 25 end date. Goldrich and Heisler enjoyed a certain amount of success with their recent TheaterWorks musical “Junie B. Jones,” but “Dear Edwina” is more in a class with “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” And that’s a good class for 13-year-old Edwina to be in.