It’s hard to know what to expect going into a children’s theater show, but this adult was quite honestly blown away by THE STINKY CHEESE MAN. The Arden Theatre Company production is a triumph of the imagination. Patrons young and old are enthralled and captivated by the “fairly stupid tales” told by a troupe of five actors. Greatest of all is the reaction of the children in the theater, who laugh, shout, and applaud for the performances.
A narrator, who seems a bit nervous for the production to start, greets us with a curtain speech filled of course with numerous interruptions from the other characters on stage. Following an hysterical opening number, comes a whirlwind of fairy tales told in a new and contemporary way. Based on Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s book of the same name, STINKY CHEESE MAN adapts famous stories such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “Cinderella”, and “Chicken Little” into “fairly stupid” tales with horribly pointless outcomes.
The result of John Glore’s adaptation is an evening of laughter from both parents and children that reminds us of the importance of the arts in children’s lives. After hijinks and hysteria galore, the evening comes to a close with a cow patty the size of a couch coming through the audience. The effect enraptures the audience as if they are watching the infamous chandelier fall in the lavishly expensive Broadway production of Phantom Of The Opera: this is theater magic at its best.
The cast is the key to the success of this piece; all five actors (Doug Hara, Rachel Camp, Ashton Carter, Leah Walton, and Scott Sheppard) are on point with comedic timing and delivery. The quick changes happen remarkably fast. The highlight of the night has to be the Stinky Cheese Man sequence, (an adaptation of the Gingerbread man). Not one weak link is present in this glorious cast.
As in previous efforts I’ve witnessed by Matt Decker, the direction is phenomenal. The stage pictures and compositions he creates are gorgeously crafted, and the timing and flow of the piece in general is perfect (which I assume should also be credited to choreographer Jenn Rose).
Scenic design by Brian Sidney Bembridge aids in the storytelling while still holding its own concept, which is quite contemporary and colorful. Costumes by Jillian Keys are gorgeous: well-crafted recycled materials that line up with the concept of the set- with just enough glitz to tell us who’s who, while keeping them human. Lights and sound by Maria Shaplin and Michael Kiley are set perfectly and help set the mood of the production. The highlight perhaps of Mr. Kiley’s work is his original music written for the show. While it uses and borrows famous melodies, the twist in the soundtrack and lyrics help the show move along and even holds some highlights of the entire production within.
Overall THE STINKY CHEESE MAN proves that children’s theater can still serve its purpose without talking down to its audience. The Arden’s STINKY CHEESE MAN sets a new precedent for what a children’s theater production can accomplish.
[Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second Street] April 6-June 12, 2016; ardentheatre.org.