Entertainment » Theatre

Thumbelina (FringeNYC)

by Rob Lester
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Aug 21, 2008
A scene from "Thumbelina:: The Story of a Brave Little Girl"
A scene from "Thumbelina:: The Story of a Brave Little Girl"   (Source: Company)

A very small show (a few actors, a few props, some simple costume pieces); a very small script (it is over in about thirty minutes); very small characters (a thumb-sized little girl and others creatures of similar stature like a bird and a couple of frogs) all come together to create a children's show that has a pretty big heart.

The unpretentious production of Thumbelina: The Story of a Brave Little Girl tels the well-known children's story about a miniature girl born to normal-sized parents (we just see her mother) who hangs out on a lily pad, and whose adventures form a celebration of small but brave creatures. Thumbelina won't take being height-challenged as she faces various obstacles including a forced marriage to an amphibian, and almost becoming the meal for a spider.

Audience participation, a staple of children's theater, requires that we be encouraged to call things out, clap, and blow the clouds around. Still, there's some originality here as well as humor that comes along just when we need it. There's even a running joke about the Beatles because there is a beetle (the insect kind) in the play. However, unlike some kiddie theater, there isn't a lot of humor aimed at adults to keep them interested at the expense of the kids who'd find such material frustrating and incomprehensible. Sarcasm is used very little; it's a warm-spirited but not syrupy show.

The actors play a wide variety of roles. They switch costume pieces before our eyes, allowing for a casual atmosphere and making what might otherwise be scary come across instead as make-believe play conventions. Some costume pieces are more creative than others: the sparrow wearing blue (blue???) wings while pantomiming flight with her arms doesn't read "bird" that well, but the spider costume is elaborate and striking.

The four actors all wear T-shirts printed with the name of their company, the Elephant Ensemble Theater in NYC (Queens). Admirably, the founders started from scratch performing in hospitals out of a dedication to helping sick kids. There's a genuine love and respect for children that comes through this production, and real warmth.

Thumbelina herself is portrayed as feisty and a bit feminist without getting modern and political, her mom doubles as storyteller, and the numerous other characters have a nice variety of personalities. Imagination is stimulated nicely and nothing is heavy-handed. Though hardly a groundbreaking show or even a new interpretation of the famed classic, "Thumbelina" is a gentle and genial half hour of old-fashioned children's story theatre with a little modern twist or three.

8/21 at 8:15, 8/23 at 5:15 At the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce St. and Cherry Lane in Greenwich Village $15 www.fringenyc.org

ROB LESTER returns to Edge in 2019 after several years of being otherwise occupied writing and directing musical theatre shows, working as a dramaturg, arts consultant, and contributing articles and reviews to various outlets. His long-running "Sound Advice" column covering cast albums and vocal CDs has been running regularly at www.TalkinBroadway.com for almost 15 years.


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