Angelina Ballerina the Musical
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
October 10, 2010
If you are the type of audience member on the hunt for modern, ambitious, genre-challenging theatre for children (yes Virginia, it does exist), then Vital Theatre's Angelina Ballerina The Musical will fail to satisfy. If, however, the idea of getting your child to a live performance that they will enjoy, regardless of your opinion, then step right up! Angelina Ballerina is a happy, easy-to-digest musical that is fulfilling for smaller audience members while providing no surprises for its older ticketholders.
Angelina Ballerina The Musical is based on the popular series of books by Katharine Holabird. As said in the title, Holabird's stories revolve around a young mouse named Angelina, who, of course, lives and breathes all things ballet. In this dramatization of Holabird's work, Angelina and her friends are happily surprised to learn that popular dancer Serena Silvertail will visit their arts academy for a special gala in which the students will get to perform. When Angelina misses her chance to sign up to dance ballet, she is forced is get creative, or lose out on an opportunity of a lifetime.
One of the primary reasons I enjoy going to the theatre is because on a good night, I am offered something by the form I cannot find in any other medium of performance. With a few exceptions, this lack of distinction and originality is what I find so disappointing about Angelina Ballerina. It isn't that I can't enjoy children's theatre, or that I don't find value in the genre (see my review of Jack and the Soy Beanstalk for proof), but one hopes that the writers and production team would aim higher than a mere live version of a popular cartoon. In this case, they don't. The script and story are simple and predictable even for children's theatre, and there is very little spectacle, one of the key elements that often makes good children's theatre so wonderful and, well...theatrical!
My problem with what I think is, for the most part, a lazy attempt at bringing a popular character to the stage, did not completely hinder me from enjoying myself. The performances in Angelina are good. As the title mouse, Whitney Meyer is charming and perky, without ever becoming obnoxious. For a character wearing pink ears and a tutu, this is no easy task. She also has a good voice, though some troubles with volume. Adding humor to the play are Amanda Yachechak and Sarah Elaine Hoffman, the latter of whom reminded me of a young Joan Cusack. Hoffman is also the best singer here, and the only one able rise above the loud, pre-recorded music. With no weak links among them, the cast of Angelina are able to make a mediocre script seem much more exciting than it actually is. Kyle Dixon's set, though small, is also fun to watch, as it provides the eager audience with at least a hint that something is happening on stage that can't be found on cable.
Lest I sound like a complete grump, I must say that as a story, there is something refreshing about a group of characters who just really want to be great at what they love, which in Angelina's world is dance. No one is concerned with boyfriends or villains. Instead, what the audience sees is a young mouse who wants nothing more than to succeed in what she sets out to do. Whether or not she'll be able to pay the rent on an artist's paycheck remains to be seen. But as the father of a daughter who is constantly barraged with very dated ideas about what really is important in life, I must say I'll take Angelina over Barbie any day.