Every so often you have to thank your higher being of choice for the musical Annie. It is a show that gives young girls with acting aspirations the chance to exercise them, and those it doesn’t chew up are spit out into bigger and better things. Such is the case with the three teen and preteen female stars of The Coterie Theatre’s wonderful Really Rosie.
With a book and lyrics brimming with intelligence by Maurice Sendak and jaunty pop music by Carole King, Really Rosie is about six bored urban kids who spin gold from the dross of their lives. They have a ringleader in Rosie (Kaitlyn Davidson), who’s like a juvenile Leni Reifenstahl intent on completing an imaginary epic by the time her mom calls her and her brother, Chicken Soup (A. J. Pflumm), in for dinner. Rosie’s co-stars include her chief nemesis, Kathy (Annemarie DesLauriers), who is really an enemy only when it’s convenient for Rosie; the tomboy, Alligator (Sarah Cline); the nonchalant Pierre (Mario White); and the dreamer, Johnny (James Kelsey Nelson).
Rosie’s not too much of a prima donna to hog the spotlight and, over the course of the production, superbly directed by Ron Megee, the kids stage the Broadway blockbuster of their lives. In the decaying central alley of their neighborhood and in a deserted basement that becomes their own sound stage, they perform nonsense counting songs that are nonetheless involving and craft a Chaplinesque silent movie. They also get melancholy when the end of the play date comes near. In one moving song, “Very Far Away,” the children proffer their rationale for filling their hellish lives with colors, costumes, and utter fabulousness.
The joy of Really Rosie is not knowing any more than this and simply letting the show’s sterling cast and top-notch production values wash over you. The young ladies are impressive belters in the making — a welcome side effect of countless renditions of The sun will come out/Tomorrow — and the guys match them note-for-note. Davidson and DesLauriers, in particular, are the kinds of talents that compel grown-ups to write musicals for teenage girls.
Aiding and abetting is musical director Molly Jessup, who is dressed by Jennifer Leigh Meyers in the rag-tag manner of a bag woman lost on her way to the circus. Art Kent’s lighting is entertaining (at one point, he puts spots in paint cans and lets the children light themselves) and Gary Wichansky’s set is pure bravado. It’s probably the widest and deepest ever constructed at The Coterie, and its detail is amazing. When the tenement alley is turned around to become a basement, Wichansky works rusty plumbing, bleeding caulking, and a beat-up water heater into the mix. In this case, more is more.
Coterie staff members say that they have received a handful of calls from concerned parents and educators who, during the show’s first week, found the theme troubling. “Too mean” was the charge, according to Coterie executive director Joette Pelster. And the Coterie has responded by pulling it back a little. That itself is troubling.
To kids, the show has the spirit of old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies, where the town’s biggest barn became a festive amphitheater. What these censorious adults must have seen is the natural pecking order that children create in every family, play group, and classroom in the country. Kids’ pulling rank on each other and then showing their survival instincts? Shocking. I suppose you can home-school your kids and keep all the bugaboos of childhood safely outside the front door.
Ron Megee is known for having the highest tolerance for camp in the theater community, but with this show it is nowhere in sight. Instead, he has cleverly put material he obviously trusts into the talented hands of little pros and created excellence.
through May 21
at The Coterie Theatre
First level, Crown Center, 2450 Grand