Monday, August 04, 2008

The Dempster Girls Take In The Plants That Ate Dirty Socks

So apparently the most popular keywords currently driving traffic to my blog are (1) related to reviews of Joe Iconis' The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks or (2) my maiden name.

Well who am I to disappoint?

If you are searching under my maiden name, you probably know me from my college years or before. A lot has changed since then. I am now Alicia Dempster. Google that. Or friend me on Facebook.

Also, as it would happen, on a rainy Sunday afternoon last week my three daughters and I took the train to the City to see Plant, the second of the two fully-realized Iconis shows produced this summer. And, since it is what my readers want, I will write a review.

In its 20th season of offering free theatre to children, TheatreworksUSA's production of The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks continues the tradition of providing literature-based musicals featuring some of theatre's most promising talent. Iconis' one-hour family friendly rock musical is currently in production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and is based on the first installment of Nancy McArthur's popular book series from the late 80s. A less-gory spin on another rock musical, Little Shop of Horrors, it is the story of two very different brothers who find common ground in their unusual plants.

Many of the titles in Joe's songbook are for mature audiences only, so several tracks get skipped when we're listening to Mommy's Iconis CD in the car. My girls have, however, heard "Plants Make Wonderful Pets" enough times that they were humming it well before they saw the show. In fact, we even incorporated the book into storytime, so they were aptly primed for our journey to see the musical adaptation.

Iconis' pulsating rock score and clever lyrics are appealing to both the primary audience for which they are intended and the parents seated at their side. Most notable are the jaunty and catchy "Plants Make Wonderful Pets" and "Welcome To My Room", although the one that my girls now keep screaming around the house is "I Saw It Suck Up A Sock!" Some of Iconis' best songs, in my opinion, are the ones with lilting melodies and simple sentiment, thus making "Sorta Kinda Not So Bad" my personal favorite (hey, I'm a sentimentalist).

Iconis' book solidly retells McArthur's story with only minor variances from the less-than-complex chapter book. Most of the changes, I presume, were made to keep the cast size small and its run-time under an hour thus increasing its tour appeal. While children's theatre may not be the genre one would dub as being in Iconis' comfort zone, he has certainly risen to the task with an infectious and entertaining production.

The at-odds brothers, portrayed by Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams and Lance Rubin, are energetic and endearing. Williams is wide-eyed and soulful as big brother Michael, a perfect compliment to Rubin's dorky yet comical Norman. Both manage the various song styles with the vocal power necessary to handle a loud, rock score but lend just the right amount of heart to ballads like the aforementioned "Sorta Kinda Not So Bad".

As the meddling neighbor kids, Lauren Marcus and Jeffery Omura have the opportunity to show off their pipes in their featured number, "Talk of the Town." Marcus is spirited and nasty as nosy-cheerleader-with-a-dark-side Patty Jenkins. Her bulldog scene with Lisitza is classic and, despite her tantrums, her character was a favorite with my girls. Doubling as egomanical 7th grade pal Jason and ratings-hungry telejournalist McKenzie, Jeffrey Omura creates characters that are appropriately loathesome. He also has 15 seconds in "Welcome To My Room" as the Mailman that delivers the mysterious sock-eating plant seeds. My eldest daughter was deeply concerned that he was not credited for this role in the Playbill. I believe she may have a future as an agent.

Lorinda Lisitza and Kilty Reidy play the boys' far-too-accomodating parents with cartoon character perfection. Since most of the songs are relegated to the kids characters, the only time we really got to hear Lorinda wail is during the riotous "Talk of the Town". But wail she does. For more wailing, click here. Lisitza and Reidy also show up at the science fair to chew the scenery a bit as Sanjay and the Judge respectively.

The eponymous plants are the brainchild of puppeteer designer Eric Wright and are manipulated by puppeteer Michael Shupbach. While I did see some kids hiding their eyes during the sock-slurping scenes, the plants are truly lovable, as is witnessed in a cute and humorous scene between Michael and his plant Stanley.

No strangers to Iconis material, director John Simpkins and choreographer Jennifer Werner stage a tight production. Michael Schweikardt's colorful set deftly set the stage, whether it is the boy's bedroom or the cafegymitorium, and it is highlighted by Tracy Christensen's youthful costumes and Chris Dallos' lighting design.

While I personally prefer my Iconis a little bloodier, Plant is a great introduction to the brilliantly damaged mind of Joe Iconis. I had a great afternoon at the theatre with my girls and, with all due to respect to the folks over at CityCenter, they said they liked it better than Damn Yankees.


The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks runs at the Lucille Lortell Theater in New York until August 22nd. For information, visit


1 comment:

Vance said...

Bravo again to Theatreworks for another great free show for kids!

While I have no little ones of my own (yet), I still went to check it out and it was a cute show but I think I was even more entertained at watching the kids hoot and holler and totally get into the show (and into musical theatre!)! So cute and hilarious!

Glad your lil ones loved it!

And yes, Omura deserved more credit.