You’re probably pretty certain that fruits and vegetables don’t speak. Well, so was I until, accompanied by my four-year old grandson Sam, I saw Potato Needs a Bath. We didn’t actually converse with any of them, but Shona Reppe did, and that was good enough for Sam and me.
The New Victory Theater, on 42nd Street off Times Square, specializes in assorted entertainments for young – often very young – audiences. Potato might be aimed at the low end of the age range, but it is very high in intent and quality.
It’s Potato’s birthday, and Ms. Reppe, an award-winning performer and puppeteer from Scotland, is the party planner. Among the invitees are a modest plum (“close the bathroom door”), squabbling twin cherries (the Cherry Sisters?), a pair of pears (they’re in love), and a banana who’s exhausted from overdoing gymnastics, specifically splits (groan). Also welcome are any number of children, age two to five, who are blessed with the doubt-free acceptance that a bejeweled eggplant can indeed sing “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. In German.
It is Reppe’s theory that theater for little kids need not be interactive – that they can be regarded as audiences rather than participants. That concept was borne out at our performance by the rapt silence of 20 toddlers through the 35-minute show.
It’s his party, but Potato isn’t given a free pass. The mud-loving spud must take his first-ever bath, a sudsy affair (“close your eyes…all of them”), before being allowed to attend. Of course, a good time is had by all, complete with a joyful Mango Tango, a candle-topped cake, a hearty (if ragged) rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a goody bag for all attendees. Finally, in a gesture that pleased the young’uns in attendance, Ms. Reppe muddies-up Potato again before putting him down in his bureau-drawer bed for a nap.
Potato Needs a Bath is an ideal introduction to live theater. Created by Ms. Reppe and Andy Manley, it’s a scripted musical-comedy, free from condescension to its intended audience. It is, in fact, quite the opposite of its bloated next-door Theater District attraction: would you believe Spiderman?
Through April 24 at New Victory Studios, 229 West 42nd Street, NYC. Performances Fri and Sun at 10:30am & 12:30pm; Sat at 10:30am, 12:30 and 2:30pm. There will be mid-week performances Tues, April 19 at 10:30am and Wed & Thurs April 20 & 21 at 10:30 and 12:30. Tickets ($20) available by phone 646-223-3010 and online at NewVictory.com (New Victory’s membership program offers discounts and other benefits – details on their web site)