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A CurtainUp Review
A Child's Garden

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see
He is very, very like me, from the heels up to the head,
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed
"My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses

The young and adult R.L.S flank 3
cousins with whom he shared memorable
childhood summers (Kevin Fox)

As anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows, I have a warm spot in my heart for small, intimate musicals. A musical slice of real life (novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson at 30) with narrative and lyrics inspired by poems from Stevenson's beloved A Child's Garden of Verses, seemed like a fine counterpoint to the Frank Wildhorn popera based on his novel, Jekyll and Hyde (our review).

For a few minutes, when we first meet the thirty-year-old Stevenson at his writing desk (well acted and robustly sung by Aloysius Gigl), my expectations for a literate, literary and lyrical small musical seemed about to be fully satisfied. But somehow, this musical's basic premise -- watching Stevenson write one of his earliest successes via revisits to the idyllic summers he shared with his cousins on his Scottish minister grandfather's estate -- never coalesces into the charming musical it should be. Too bad, for all the right ingredients are in place:
  • Mr. Gigl's supporting cast --Tony Speciale as Young Stevenson, and Thomas Scott Parker, Jessica Walling and Rebecca Bellingham as his cousins -- all perform admirably.
  • The score is melodic and those familiar Stevenson's poems will find much to recognize in the lyrics.
  • Robert La Fosse has supplied some graceful choreography, and more of it than you'll find in another and bigger literary musical, Jane Eyre. (our review)
  • The musical comes to the Melting Pot with the credentials of a 1992 Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Foundation Award.
The sum of individually pleasing moments and songs is unfortunately more precious than piquant, more childish than childlike. This stems partly from the production values. Director Lori Steinberg has in the past demonstrated her ability to make much of a small budget, but Kris Stone's sets have such a grade school feel to them that you can't help wishing Steinberg had settled for Sue Gandy's much more attractive costumes and La Fosse's choreography, and left the set entirely to the audience's imagination.

But the staging, which could be rectified in future productions, is not as much at fault as the narrative's forced and predictable progression and the repetitiveness that dogs the music despite several knockout songs. Add to this the fact that the appeal of Stevenson's verses is to very young children while the music here is adult. The result is a show that's not for kids but also likely to appeal to a fairly limited adult constituency.

In case you'd like to read Stevenson's little volume before or after you see the show, several versions are available at our book store. Here's a link to one I like: A Child's Garden of Verses

Music: Louis Rosen
Libretto: Louis Rosen, Charlotte Maier and Arthur Perlman
A work of fiction based on autobiographical writings of Robert Louis Stevenson
Directed by Lori Steinberg
Choreographed by Robert La Fosse
Cast: Rebecca Bellingham, Aloysius Gigl, Thomas Scott Parker, Tony Speciale and Jessica Walling
Musical Directors: Bradley Vieth and Stenve Silverstein.
Design: Kris Stone
Lighting Design: Michael Lincoln
Costume Design: Sue Gandy
Running time: 80 minutes without intermission
Melting Pot Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St. (8th/9th Avs) 279-4200
Wed-Sat 8 pm, Saturdas at 2pm, Sundays at 1 and 5 pm--$35
12/05/00-1/14/01; opening 12/10/00

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 12/14 performance
The Broadway Theatre Archive

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