Taylor Caldwell photos by Joan Marcus
by Julia Polinsky
Off-Center did a kids show? From the 70s? You could be pardoned for having
visions of Sesame Street-level cuteness, updated with a multicultural cast with
sass and attitude and pink feather boas. Well, that’s pretty much what you’d
get, and it’s just fine, thank you.
of the reason Really Rosie is just fine can be chalked up to the book,
written by the late Maurice Sendak, who understood that children’s lives are
neither simple nor easy. There’s a lovely moment late in the show, when the
director acknowledges Sendak’s impact.
Nutshell Library is the foundation of Really Rosie, four short
tales that sneak a little education in with the stories: one book teaches the
alphabet, one, numbers, that kind of thing. It makes for a plot that feels
cobbled together. But more than the patchwork plot, in Really Rosie, Sendak
gets dark and reveals the real things kids think about – death, vampires, being
very far away from abusive parents.
wrapping the books of Sendak’s Nutshell Library in a cheery, upbeat
musical, that darkness gets an appealing frosting. In this staged
reading/concert performance of Really Rosie, talented, skilled, terrific
kids sing, dance, and act their way through the contrived storyline, with
Carole King’s songs moving things along.
Taylor Caldwell and Company
takes place on the stoops of Avenue P, in Brooklyn, and in the mind of Rosie
(Taylor Caldwell) and her friends. The superstar-wannabe Rosie – now, that’s an
entrance! Such style! Such verve! -- cons the neighborhood kids into being the
cast in the movie of her life. Her rich imagination gives each friend a chance
Ayodele Casel, Kenneth Cabral
so, we get the Nutshell Library brought to life. Alligators All
Around gets a number (terrific performance here from Kenneth Cabral as
Alligator, with his tapping partner Ayodele Casel), and so does Pierre
(Eduardo Hernandez), who doesn’t care -- until he is eaten by a lion!
Ruth Righi, Anthony Rosenthal, Eduardo Hernandez, and Company
gives Johnny, the neighborhood nerd, (Anthony Rosenthal), his moment in the
sun. As Rosie’s despised little brother, Chicken Soup, the astonishing Zell
Steele Morrow leads the ensemble with style and verve in a terrific 11 o’clock
number, “Chicken Soup with Rice”. Considering he’s about 3 1/2 feet tall,
that’s some impressive performance. Brought down the house.
Silverman’s inspired direction sometimes seems like he just let the kids do
what they want, offering guidance here and there, which makes for a seamless,
easygoing show. Ayodele Casel’s choreography lets each of the performers do
what s/he does best, so dance styles from tap to hip hop liven the show. Clint
Ramos’s wonderful costumes and the splendid Encores! Orchestra, led by music
directors Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Carmel Dean, fill the huge City
Center stage. Nicely abstract scenic design from Donyale Werle and lighting by
Mark Barton work like a charm.
performers kill it; the audience clap and cheer; a good time is had by all.
Seriously. That level of just let go and enjoy it? Hard to beat. Hope the show
gets a new mounting soon. It’s that much fun.
and lyrics by Maurice Sendak; music by Carole King
2-5 at New York City Center
130 W. 56th Street, New York, NY