×

Babes in Toyland

"You were an accident," David Greenspan blithely informs one of his children.

With:
With: David Greenspan, Rodney Pallanck, Michael Levinton, Sofia Jean Gomez, Megan Hill, Laura von Holt, Mary Becky Yamamoto, Sadrina Renee, Julia Sirna-Frest, Tonya Canada, John Kurzynowski, Eliza Bent.

You were an accident,” David Greenspan blithely informs one of his children during a snicker-worthy moment in “Babes in Toyland.” A happy accident, a better mother (he’s in drag) might have amended, like much of this show. Defiantly rudderless script pulls too many mystifying gags from the 1903 operetta, so most of the tuner’s appeal comes from the cast’s screwball antics. Greenspan, recently an even meaner ma in “Coraline,” is predictably good, but the show gets a major boost from strong perfs by Sofia Jean Gomez as the male lead (drag again) and Laura von Holt as her paramour.

Low humor saves high concept over and over again in this production, mostly because co-helmer/adapter Michael Levinton’s love for his material outstrips his facility for expressing it on the page. But he fares much better on stage as the show’s multi-mustachioed antagonist Barnaby, a guy whose facial hair can’t decide what form it wants to take. Is this a dumb joke? Unquestionably. Is it a funny one? Yes.

While various fairy-tale denizens (Mother Goose, Little Jack Horner, Miss Muffet and others) lay out the love-conquers-most story for us, Levinton and directing partner Jose Zayas somehow manage to keep the actors at roughly the same level of self-conscious wackiness for the entire show. While any in-jokiness is arguably too much in the post-“Urinetown” theater, that accomplishment is still fairly impressive. Everybody does his or her own slightly shticky thing, but they do it well and in concert.

Gomez gets the most mileage out of this kind of freedom, playing her adorable urchin Alan as a guileless tyke at one moment, and then lapsing into a very funny (and still childlike) worldliness in another. At one point, surprised and afraid, Alan hides behind one of the Ohio Theater’s support pillars as the show’s villains do something frightening. “Fuuuuuuuck,” he says softly, still sounding about 12.

Tuner’s bit players frequently shine, as well — Eliza Bent swerves onto the stage just before the show ends as Svetlana, Qveen of Chrrristmas, a character who benefits immeasurably from the Ukrainian hooker vibe Bent gives her.

Tech package is impeccable, maybe even incongruously so given that the show wears its low-rent credentials so proudly (the words “Musical Extravaganza” on the program are struck through and replaced with “Recession Spectacular”). Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes are notably good, synching up with the cheapo aesthetic and still making the actors look good (or hilariously bad, as the occasion requires). Jason Simms’ storybook-illustration sets are lovely.

Music is all appropriated from the original score, and performed dutifully, though without much sense of purpose.

Levinton’s company, the Little Lord Fauntleroys, exclusively performs offbeat revivals. One can imagine a fun commedia production with these guys. But the Fauntleroys’ directing and writing sensibilities don’t even remotely mesh with the dramaturgy of the fairy tale they’ve picked — it’s a testament to the performances that “Babes” still has enough going for it to merit a look. To paraphrase another adapter of Victor Herbert’s 106-year-old show, it’s another fine mess, but worth getting into.

Babes in Toyland

Ohio Theater; 99 seats; $15 top

Production: A Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory 2009 presentation of a Little Lord Fauntleroys production of a musical in two acts, adapted by Michael Levinton from an operetta by Glen MacDonough and Victor Herbert. Directed by Levinton and Jose Zayas. Musical direction, Rodney Pallanck, Kate Marvin. Choreography, Johary Mayfield, Pallanck, Sadrina Renee.

Creative: Sets, Jason Simms; costumes, Asta Bennie Hostetter; lighting, Christopher Brown; sound, David Margolin Lawson; production stage manager, Catherine Bloch. Opened, reviewed July 23, 2009. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: With: David Greenspan, Rodney Pallanck, Michael Levinton, Sofia Jean Gomez, Megan Hill, Laura von Holt, Mary Becky Yamamoto, Sadrina Renee, Julia Sirna-Frest, Tonya Canada, John Kurzynowski, Eliza Bent.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content