Open: 04/24/10- Close: 05/31/10
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Lori Chandler
Annie Arthur ©2023 Barry Shafrin
Run on two feet or all fours down to Manhattan Children’s Theater. Stanley’s Party, marvelously directed by Bruce Merrill, is a rollicking, high-spirited adventure that doesn’t let up. It tells the “tail” of a dog named Stanley (Barry Shafrin) and his frisky pals (Crystal Davidson, Ryan Makely, Kyra Bromberg, and Derek Rommel) as they bring to life the books Stanley’s Party and Stanley’s Wild Ride. The cast’s exuberant energy rockets the already splendid choreography (by Erin Porvaznika), and they make terrific use of the inventive set design (the work of Cully Long). Even the costumes (designed by Nora Munde’ Gustuson) are cute. With two plot lines squeezed into a short timeframe, the action never ceases. First, the dogs experience a day of freedom after escaping their backyards, and later they show us how dogs would party if five of them were left alone in a house. The two books merge well, and the time flies by like the snooty bird who taunts Stanley. The entire cast gives their all, keeping up with the fast pace without breaking a sweat. They sing wonderfully, and give off just the right amount of energy without ever going into overkill. They instantly endear the audience to the characters, and milk every last laugh.
The problem with much of children’s theater is its tendency to talk down to its audience. Children may be children, but they are not stupid, and the sanity of their adult companion is seldom taken into consideration. This is where Stanley succeeds best. The book, by Caroline Cala, is full of puns, and extremely well-written. The jokes are never forced or recycled, and at times it’s downright hilarious. What is most impressive is the catchy, clever score by Seth Bisen-Hersh. The music and lyrics are reminiscent of the Disney cartoons of the 1990’s; that is to say, sophisticated while still audience-appropriate. Bisen-Hersh could be the rightful heir to the Disney throne, this generation’s Alan Menkin, if he wanted to be. Every tune is hummable, enjoyable, and leaves plenty of Easter eggs for the careful listener. It takes a considerable amount of energy not to sing along, or jump on stage and join the show.
With this effort, the creative team has built itself a timeless work. It succeeds on a whole in entertaining all ages, and will surely have a long life, not just in dog years, after its run at MCT.
Manhattan Children's Theatre : 52 White Street