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BWW Review: Taylor Caldwell Leads a Terrific Young Cast in Carole King and Maurice Sendak's REALLY ROSIE

New York City wasn't exactly the most magical place for a child to grow up in back in 1975. Crime and poverty rates were inhumanely high and when the city begged for federal assistance, the president, at least according to a Daily News headline, replied "Drop Dead."

BWW Review:  Taylor Caldwell Leads a Terrific Young Cast in Carole King and Maurice Sendak's REALLY ROSIE
Taylor Caldwell
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

But imagination and optimism flourished, at least for a half an hour, on television screens in February of that year, when CBS aired an animated special that would offer a first taste of what would become the Off-Broadway musical, REALLY ROSIE.

Based primarily on a collection of Maurice Sendak books about the Nutshell Kids living on Brooklyn's Avenue P, REALLY ROSIE's title character is a sassy little girl who fully recognizes her own fabulousness as she imagines herself to be a glamorous Hollywood star producing an autobiographical movie musical featuring the other kids on the block.

The title of her epic is "Did You Hear What Happened to Chicken Soup?" (Chicken Soup, for those out of the loop, is the name of her little brother.)

Sendak penned the teleplay and wrote a fun batch of lyrics set to catchy pop music by Carole King, who also sang the title role. A soundtrack album, with additional songs added, helped the show gain more popularity and soon there were stage productions in London and Washington, followed by an eight-month Off-Broadway run that opened in 1980.

Directed with high-energy playfulness by Leigh Silverman, the Encores! Off-Center concert production of REALLY ROSIE is a sunny showcase for a talented cast of performers.

After one of Carole King's signature soulful piano vamps, played by Carmel Dean, who leads the five-member on-stage band, Taylor Caldwell (from the original SCHOOL OF ROCK cast) appears on the top step of a brownstone stoop, decked out in a fake fur, dark glasses and feather boa, assuring the audience with stellar pipes that she's "a great big deal."

BWW Review:  Taylor Caldwell Leads a Terrific Young Cast in Carole King and Maurice Sendak's REALLY ROSIE
Ayodele Casel and Kenneth Cabral
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The young performer struts with lovable confidence throughout the 70-minute frolic, as do her terrific cohorts.

Choreographer Ayodele Casel teams with Kenneth Cabral for a rousing challenge tap routine. Ruth Righi shimmies with her own diminutive brand of sassiness and, as Chicken Soup, Zell Steele Morrow (original Broadway company of FUN HOME) shines with showbiz song and dance charisma.

The sight of a gathering of city kids happily singing and dancing on their Brooklyn block may not have the same impact today as it did at a time when New York was just beginning to lift itself up from a difficult decade, but over at City Center, just try not being delighted watching REALLY ROSIE's dynamic company performing their hearts out.

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