Children's Letters to God: An Answer to a Musical Theatre Lover's Prayer
Under normal circumstances an attempt to get me to see a "family musical" would involve enough kicking, screaming and heel-dragging on my part to make you think I was either being taken to my own execution or to a reunion concert of Thou Shalt Not. Oh, it's not that I don't think there should be musicals written specifically aimed toward younger audiences. We should have more of them. It's just that I wouldn't be so cruel as to make a child sit through most of the stuff that gets passed off as family fare these days.
So thank goodness for Children's Letters to God, a musical so clever, funny and musically hip that it makes at least half of today's Broadway tuners look like kid stuff.
Inspired by Stuart Hample's book, (He also wrote the book of the musical.), Children's Letters to God is a collection of songs and scenes focused on the questions kids have about the world and themselves while growing up. It's not a religious show. God, however you want to interpret that word, is treated as simply a higher being who has all the answers.
"Dear God, If you're so famous, how come you're not on TV?"
"What does begat mean? Nobody will tell me?"
"With so many different religions, don't you get them mixed up sometimes?"
Snippets like these are scattered throughout the 90 minute show as the cast, who range in age from 10 to 15, playing characters aged 9 to 13, grapple with issues like divorce, death, self-esteem, getting along with your siblings, being separated from a friend... the kinda stuff we adults still have trouble dealing with. And they do it all without ever coming off as "cute". The authors, as well as director Stafford Arima, obviously have no interest in having us watch a bunch of precocious or adorable tykes. Although each cast member has a long list of impressive professional credits, and all have strong singing voices (no amplification) and harmonize well (under musical director Larry Pressgrove), they come off as natural everyday kids; bright, but with an age-appropriate sense of humor.
The score by David Evans (music) and Douglas J. Cohen (lyrics) is an enjoyable assortment of comic songs, ballads and charm numbers. Evan Daves makes for a rowdy little tough guy who, in his big number, sings about how he loves "shmooshing" ants, stomping on his insect victims with gleeful jumps. But after bigger kids tease him he starts sympathizing with the tiny workers and ends the song tip-toeing around them. Libbie Jacobson has pipes that defy her pint size and shows a funky sense of humor wearing beatnik black while in over-dramatic mourning for her dead turtle. Jimmy Dieffenbach is the likable, uncoordinated nerd who sings of appreciation for the one kid in school less athletic than he his, sparing him the embarrassment of always being the last one picked for a team. Allison Fischer (filling in for Sara Kapner) does a lovely job as a young girl feeling the first pangs of an adolescent crush and nicely sings of wondering if she's worthy to be liked back. Gerard Canonico, the elder statesman of the cast, has the most challenging job playing a child of divorce who's entering puberty with a part-time dad. He knocks an Act II ballad about his father/son relationship smack out of the park and has got a wry delivery that makes you think he'll be a prime candidate for Rent in a few years.
The youngsters in the audience all seemed quiet and attentive the afternoon I saw the show. No fidgeting or bored disruptions in sight. But you don't need kids in tow to have a great time at Children's Letters to God. It's just as funny, tuneful and professionally done as you would want a musical for grown-ups to be, so don't feel guilty about leaving the kids with a sitter and spending an adult evening remembering your youth.
Photos by Carol Rosegg of original cast
Top: (l to r) Gerard Canonico, Sara Kapner Jimmy Dieffenbach, Andrew Zutty. Center: Libby Jacobson
Bottom: (Clockwise from top) Jimmy Dieffenbach, Sara Kapner, Andrew Zutty, Libby Jacobson and Gerard Canonico
For more information visit childrensletterstogod.com