Tuesday, March 6, 2012

'Petite Rouge' makes tart gumbo of Red Riding Hood

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 2:45 PM

GIRLZ N DA HOOD: Renita James and Brian Harrison in Petite Rouge
Synchronicity Theatre's family play Petite Rouge, playing through March 25 at the 7 Stages Backstage Theatre, transplants the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale to the bayous of Louisiana. Adapting Mike Artell and Jim Harris' picture book, Petite Rouge touches many of the same bayou bases as Disney's New Orleans-style Disney's Princess and the Frog film from 2009: alligators, riverboats, Mardi Gras, even wacky trappers. Together the two shows create a cumulative impression of a Louisiana theme park ride, but Petite Rouge nevertheless offers family-friendly entertainment that will keep adults engaged.

Joan Cushing's Cajunized version of the story recasts the characters as bayou animals, with precocious young Petite Rouge (Renita James) being a duckling, although the show only lightly implies the roles' beastly natures. Petite Rouge convinces her skeptical mother to allow the girl duck to take some spicy gumbo to her laid-up Grandmere. Petite Rouge's straight-arrow friend Tejean (Steven D. Brun) a cat who more closely resembles Urkel, accompanies her to make sure she doesn't get sidetracked. Instead of a crafty wolf, however, the tale features the crafty and ravenous alligator Claude, played as a flamboyant comedic villain by Brian Harrison.

Some of the musical numbers emulate Louisiana song styles, with Claude's "I'm Hungry" suggesting a snaky Neville Brothers tune with Tom Waits as the lead vocalist. That the show winds out with a rollicking R&B tribute to "Hot Sauce" sums up it's spirited attitude, while Lori Werner's playful choreography uses every bit of the Stages' modest Backstage space (much like Native Americans famously used every bit of the buffalo). The most dischordant note comes from the use of prerecorded music, which falls particularly flat when Brun must mime Tejean's big scene playing the harmonica. It's the kind of moment where, if you can't do it for real, you should avoid doing it at all.

Occasionally Petite Rouge cracks an joke for the grown-ups, like the scene with Grandmere reading a book called Nip/Duck, or a detour for a New Orleans funeral that turns out to be for a chipmunk. The show's overall energy, under the direction of Justin Anderson, primarily keeps the attention of the parents in the audience. Michael Stiggers, Taryn Janelle and Jessica De Maria bring a quick-change brio to their multiple roles, while James makes a big-hearted heroine. Claude's antagonism gives Petite Rouge a pursuit-and-escape structure that gives it more urgency than many kid-oriented plays, which tend to be more tame and leisurely. Petite Rouge may be based on a storybook, but it won't put anybody to sleep.

Petite Rouge. Through March 25. Synchronicity Theatre, 7 Stages Backstage Theatre, 1105 Euclid Ave.

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