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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Lyle the Crocodile Nips at the Heart
at Seattle Children's Theatre

Lyle the Crododile
Greg McCormick Allen
Family musicals don't get much more heartwarming and funny than Lyle the Crocodile, playwright Kevin Kling and composer/lyricist Richard Gray's new musicalization of the wildly popular children's book series by Bernard Waber. Director Linda Hartzell stuffs the show full of talented actors who are just right for their roles, and keeps the nearly two hour show skipping along brightly to Marianne Roberts happy feet choreography.

The story is told by smiley-faced and warm-hearted showbiz impresario Hector P. Valenti, who recently retired his act with the title, tap-dancing crocodile. Hector takes up residence in the East 88th Street New York apartment just occupied by the Primm family, a mother and dad right out of a 1950s sitcom and their pre-teen son Joshua. Josh and his pals have great times with Lyle, who even charms hoity-toity neighbor lady Miss Nitpicker, but everybody is wary of the appropriately named old man next door, Mr. Grump, and his conniving cat Loretta. After an innocent encounter in Mr. Grump's department store seems to spell a life behind (zoo) bars for Lyle, the talented amphibian manages a heroic act which thaws Mr. Grump's icy heart and leads to a happy, snowy city holiday season for everyone on East 88th Street.

Kevin Kling's light and airy adaptation creates a wistful nostalgia for a mid-20th century New York City we all wish were as postcard perfect as presented here, and Gray's songs are vintage, classic musical comedy stylings. The composer/lyricist has twice been a Fred Ebb award finalist, and his tunes for Lyle are showbizzy, big-city delights, not unlike Kander & Ebb's scores for shows like Flora, the Red Menace and 70, Girls, 70. Standouts include the bright opening ensemble "Something is Always Happening," young Joshua's ode to his colorful "Pajamas," Miss Nitpicker's joyous realization that she has "Likeability" after all, the comically cautionary "Something About Loretta," arousing dance number "The Swampity Stomp" and the touchingly tuneful closer "City Snowfall." Gray should be getting produced on Broadway, but Seattle will hold on to him as long as we can.

The scrumptious cast is perfectly led by Greg McCormick's wordless but wise title crocodile, the actor so expressive through his takes and his dance steps. Auston James and Julie Briskman charm as the idealized doting parents, and Don Darryl Rivera is most winning as their son Joshua. MJ Sieber is responsible for a lot of the extra bubbly joy that powers the show as the ubiquitous Hector, while Jayne Muirhead is a comic force to be reckoned with as the very New Yawk matron, Miss Nitpicker. Allen Galli is endearingly gruff and delightfully soft-centered as Mr. Grump, especially in his solo number "Lovey-Dovey" sung to his felonious feline Loretta. The solid ensemble consists of such standout talents as Katherine Strohmaier, Khanh Doan, Ian Lindsay and Catey Sagoian, the latter two socking across the duet "Life in the Pen" as two vociferous crocs Lyle meets during his zoo incarceration.

The imaginary Manhattan settings are adroitly realized by scenic designer Jennifer Lupton to a warm-hued lighting design by Geoff Kort, and smart-looking costumes by Catherine Hunt. Musical direction by Mark Rabe is sublime, with Rabe at the piano, expertly leading a spot-on quartet of musicians through the good-humored Gray score.

SCT continues its tradition of fine family fare with Lyle the Crocodile, a show that deserves perennial status as a holiday season hit.

Lyle the Crocodile runs through January 9, 2011, at Seattle Children's Theatre at 201 Thomas St in Seattle Center. For ticket availability and further information go to www.sct.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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