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The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks

"The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks," based on the children's book by Nancy McArthur, is about -- well, you get it. Sort of a child-friendly variation on "Little Shop of Horrors" for young audiences, the title character feeds not on blood but on stinky Argyles.

With:
Michael - Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams Jason, McKenzie - Jeffrey Omura Patty Jenkins - Lauren Marcus Norman - Lance Rubin Dad, Judge - Kilty Reidy Mom, Sanjay - Lorinda Lisitza Fluffy, Stanley - Michael Schupbach

“The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks,” based on the children’s book by Nancy McArthur, is about — well, you get it. Sort of a child-friendly variation on “Little Shop of Horrors” for young audiences, the title character feeds not on blood but on stinky Argyles. Mini-tuner admirably serves its purpose as Theatreworks USA’s 2008 offering of free summer theater for children, but one suspects that on a larger scale, this “Plant That Ate Dirty Socks” doesn’t have legs.

The piece is perfectly adequate for auds up to perhaps 8 or 9, with two plant puppets — with lobster-claw pincers on extended arms — meriting roars of approbation. Story tells of a pair of squabbling brothers who plant some magic beans that mysteriously arrive in the mail.

The messy kid’s plant (Stanley) is the one who eats dirty socks; the neat kid’s pod (Fluffy) likes ’em freshly laundered. The good-natured parents want to get rid of the plants, but they nevertheless run out and buy socks wholesale. The plot, such as it is, revolves around entering the plants in the local science fair.

Score and book for this “family rock” musical are by Joe Iconis, an up-and-coming NYU/Tisch grad who has received both the Ed Kleban and Jonathan Larson awards. His work is perfectly capable here, although one suspects that his talents lie in a rather more sophisticated vein. Songs are rhythmic and humorous but more functional than noteworthy. The exception is the jaunty “Plants Make Wonderful Pets,” which lands in a way that the other songs don’t.

The proceedings are boosted by the six-person, clearly adult cast, led by Jason Williams (as the beefy seventh grader) and Lance Rubin (as his nerdy fourth-grade brother).

The plants are operated by Michael Schupbach, who merits a bow in the curtain call. Director John Simpkins and choreographer Jennifer Werner keep things alive, although the slight plot seems overextended. Jana Zielonka conducts from her keyboard, accompanied by a drummer, and designer Michael Schweikardt amusingly backs his set with a drop of what looks to be a modern-day Levittown.

“The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks” is sure to please thousands of elementary schoolers during its six-week sojourn on Christopher Street; Theatreworks USA plans to distribute more than 20,000 free tickets to groups and individuals. That said, this summer’s offering doesn’t have the kick or pizzazz of the venerable org’s recent “Junie B. Jones.”

The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks

Lucille Lortel Theater; 299 seats; free

Production: A Theatreworks USA (Barbara Pasternack, Ken Arthur) presentation of a musical in one act with book, music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, based on the book by Nancy McArthur. Directed by John Simpkins. Choreography, Jennifer Werner. Musical direction, arrangements, Jana Zielonka.

Creative: Sets, Michael Schweikardt; costumes, Tracy Christensen; lighting, Chris Dallos; sound, Eric Shim; puppet design, Eric Wright; production stage manager, Jeff Davolt. Opened July 24, 2008. Reviewed July 21. Runs through Aug. 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 5 MIN.

Cast: Michael - Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams Jason, McKenzie - Jeffrey Omura Patty Jenkins - Lauren Marcus Norman - Lance Rubin Dad, Judge - Kilty Reidy Mom, Sanjay - Lorinda Lisitza Fluffy, Stanley - Michael SchupbachMusical Numbers: "The Woohoo! Song," "Welcome to My Room," "If I Won the Science Fair," "Plants Make Wonderful Pets," "Robot and Gorilla and the Case of the Missing Socks," "I Saw It Suck Up a Sock," "Talk of the Town," "At the Science Fair," "Sorta Kinda Not So Bad."

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