Babes in Toyland
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
July 22, 2009
Nothing like a little holiday cheer in July, according to the theater collective Little Lord Fauntleroys and their re-imagining of the Christmas-time classic Babes In Toyland. Now playing at the essential Ice Factory festival at the equally essential Ohio Theater in Soho, this deliberately lo-fi production pokes gentle satirical fun at the original Victor Herbert piece. Despite some strong individual performances, the show takes too long to find its footing before the wheels blow off during the denouement. But I think that fans of the film and the original Broadway script will laugh a lot harder than I did, as it appears to be more of a fully realized inside joke than a true satire of the holiday-show genre.
Let's start with the good things: David Greenspan is a treat to watch perform. As both The Old Woman Who Lived In The Shoe and, later, as the Master Toymaker, he deftly displays a mastery of comic timing and the soft underbelly of sympathy, often at the same time. The actresses playing the "leads" Jane and Alan, Megan Hill and Sofia Jean Gomez, are very amusing, as is Laura von Holt as Mary Mary Quite Contrary, who takes the phrase "over-the-top" to new heights. Something else that also works quite well is the Waiting For Guffman-ish set design by Jason Simms and the terrific costume design by Asta Bennie Hostetter and Stacey Berman.
Babes In Toyland has some of the aspects that one would expect from indie theater in that it possesses a very game cast who are willing to go the extra mile, and the slide show telling us to use our imaginations is a clever conceit (especially with the subtitle "Recession Spectacular"). But the downfall of Babes In Toyland lies with the direction, by Michael Levinton and Jose Zayas. There are some severe pacing issues in the first act. If the goal was to have a slow degradation of the original script culminating into absolute chaos, I didn't feel like we got there fast enough, despite the relatively short running time of 90 minutes. The adaptation of the script in Act Two, where the actors start commenting on the action or drifting into modern slang is the part that works—where was that from the beginning? I felt like Babes In Toyland would have been far more successful if it had stuck to a single chord it was trying to strike—comedic satire—rather than to slowly upend the apple cart.