What better way to simultaneously teach children about theater and community activism than a thinly veiled panto that dramatizes how real estate development can threaten local culture? In The Musicians of Bremen: A Holiday Panto, presented at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, a dog, a rooster, a cat and a mule fight back when a greedy businessman tries to shut down a beloved nightclub to open a trendy restaurant.
New Orleans playwright Jon Greene wrote and directed this colorful and inventive musical, which is as much fun for adults as it is for kids. The remake of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale is produced as a traditional British children's play that lampoons society while delivering a moral lesson.
As the scene opens, a bank is about to foreclose on the club. Holly Daze (Bob Edes Jr.), owner of the endangered nightclub, instructs the audience how to participate. "I talk and you talk back," he says. Warning viewers to shut off electronic devices, he adds, "The only augmented reality you need is here." Dressed like a peacock in a puffy-sleeved, sequined gown, baubles and plumes, Edes is a cross between Divine and Hermione Gingold. That getup is enough to capture plenty of attention, but the animal musicians of Bremen are just as captivating. They play gypsy melodies and decide to hold a holiday fundraising party to pay the rent on the nightclub.
Greene draws his inspiration from vaudeville, Groucho Marx, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Lucille Ball and other comic legends. Judging by the children literally jumping out of their seats to hiss, boo and shout "Throw me something, mister," social media isn't missed one bit.
The evil developer, Old MacDonald (Garrett Prejean), enters wearing a bold plaid suit and polka dot tie. He imagines a farm-to-table restaurant requiring a quiet, dignified atmosphere.
"No singing, no music, no noise — ever!" he demands. Culture is described as a "nuisance."
Determined to shutter the club, MacDonald bellows: "Oh, yes I will!" to which the audience hollers back: "Oh, no you won't!" Kids catch on fast. MacDonald and his colleague, Rodney Rat (Mike Spara), impersonating detectives a la Magnum P.I., seize the musicians' instruments and imprison them in their condo basement/dungeon.
"Without the instruments, we lose the club; without the club, we're not musicians anymore," the animals say with a sigh.
All the actors are very expressive, including AshleyRose Bailey as Kitty Cat, William Bowling as Daryl Dog, Keith Claverie as Morry Mule and Clint Johnson as Rickie Rooster, but particularly the outrageous Edes and diabolical Prejean, who was born to play the devious developer. A special nod goes to the adorable rat, Spara, and Natalie Boyd, who assumes several roles, including the popular Maison Blanche department store mascot, Mr. Bingle.
Bingle leaves the children with an important holiday message: "I found a way to be happy without things. What's inside is what counts."