ALLIGATOR PIE by Dennis Lee (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House Lane). Runs to November 25, see website for various times. $23, family four-pack available. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NNNN
For decades, Dennis Lee's poems have entranced children with their clever rhymes and funny, often insightful narratives.
An hour's worth of those poems come to life in Alligator Pie, concocted and performed by five former members of the Soulpepper Academy: Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross.
Go and see it, and take any kids you know, whether yours or someone else's.
Ranging from the well-known title poem to narrative works like The Cat And The Wizard and Melvis And Elvis - Melvis, a monster, and Elvis, an elf, meet in a library - the cast rocks the house with songs, recitations and enactments of Lee's work.
Switching costumes, wigs and props frequently, the actors share the sort fine chemistry resulting from years of working together. That sense of trust and warmth spills out into the audience; the school-kids at the performance I attended happily clapped, stomped and joined in vocally when asked to participate.
It's no surprise, then, that one underlying theme of the show is friendship and connection, even with those pals who aren't in our lives any longer.
Music is a big part of the production, played on recognizable instruments and an assortment of found objects and plastic tubes of various lengths. One of the best numbers involves an orchestral assemblage drawn from your average work desk; bet you've never heard a tango played on staplers, a roll of tape, scissors and a hole-punch. This is a show where the toe-tapping rhythms aren't limited to the text's poetry.
Each of the talented performers has a chance to shine, and there's even some surprise as to who's going to play which part. In a few instances, whoever's group leader at the moment has to "cast" the others in a story; "pick me! pick me!" they cry, just like youngsters hoping to be chosen for the best team on the playground.
A few times, sadly, the words are lost, drowned out by the music or muffled by the in-the-round staging or audience participation.
For the most part, though, this theatrical version of Lee's poetry is playful in all sorts of good ways, filled as it is with funny hats and glasses, worms, improvised costumes, lit globes and plastic bubble-wrap that pops noisily. Yes, lots of bubble-wrap.
No matter how old you are, you'll walk out of Alligator Pie with a big smile on your face. It's that infectious.