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BWW Reviews: TIMMY THE GREAT, 'Madcap Musical for Revolutionaries of All Ages', Entertains Too Much

Timmy The Great, which is playing at Theater for the New City through September 1, bills itself as "a madcap musical for revolutionaries of all ages." One could easily interpret this as meaning: It's for children from the Upper West Side.

Actually, there's much here that anyone could enjoy. The show, based on a 1999 children's book about a kingdom where the adults and children switch roles, is stuffed full of lively dancing and inspired clowning, as well as tuneful songs by Gary Kupper, the same composer who turned Julianne Moore's children's book Freckle Face Strawberry into a hit stage show.

We are in the Kingdom of Hearts, where the citizens are all artists of one stripe or another. This is not the Utopia one might expect, because "the world outside our kingdom just doesn't seem to care about the arts anymore," which has resulted in a fiscal crisis.

The three kings of the neighboring kingdoms - King Andre the Gluttonous (Tommy J. Dose), King Marvin the Slow Minded ( Ricky Altamirano) and King John the Nervous (Andy Schneeflock) - try to take advantage of the financial distress, and offer to buy the Kingdom of Hearts. Hearts King Edward the Sensible (Jason Pintar) refuses, and eventually the three kings kill him, and threaten to wage war.

This turns nine-year-old Prince Timmy (Cormac Cullinane) into King Timmy, and it is he who decrees that the children of his kingdom should be treated like adults, and -- when the adults react to this news with petulance -- that the adults should act like children.

There is more, much more. When the other kings declare war, King Timmy suggests they fight with pies: "An eye for an eye. A pie for a pie."

Sandra Hochman, best-known as a poet, is the driving force behind Timmy The Great - she was one of the writers of the original children's book, and is the lead producer, lyricist and book writer of the musical. Her deft way with words, sense of humor and political awareness are all on display in Timmy, and they are greatly enhanced by the energetic staging of the two directors, Julie Arenal, who choreographed the original production of Hair, and Jay Binder, who is best-known as a Broadway casting director, responsible for some 80 shows, from The Lion King to Urinetown.

The cast is made up of seven adults and five children. A stand-out among the children is Zachary Brod, who plays Frank, a self-declared revolutionary.

"I come from a long line of revolutionaries," he tells Timmy. "My father used to read me Karl Marx at bedtime."

"That's enough to put anybody to sleep," says another kid, Betty.

That line points to one of the two problems of the musical. The children are too often given things to say that they don't deliver well - either because the dialogue is too sophisticated or because it calls for a demonstration of intense feeling. As Timmy, Cormac Cullinane has a pure, powerful singing voice. But he can't act - or, rather, he doesn't act. When he learns that his father has been killed, he exhibits all the emotion of somebody who has lost a pair of sneakers.

Given what Charlie Chaplin did to make Jackie Coogan cry, it's probably just as well, and in any case it is only a minor detraction. The extraordinary performances of the adults more than compensate. The trio of gluttonous, slow-minded and nervous kings could take their act on the road; they are both a hilarious comedy team - two Laurels and a Hardy - and a jazz-suited Blues Brothers that can scat and growl and let loose with the best of them. Other stand-outs include Pintar as the vaudeville-loving sensible king, and Lisha McKoy as Madame Minister, the voice of adult authority. Since the cast is constantly in motion, joking, singing, dancing, advancing the story, their talents include stamina.

That's the second problem in Timmy The Great. There is too much of it. Two hours -- 25 musical numbers! -- turned out to be more madcap entertainment than I wanted. Much like the child-like characters in the story, the creative team seems to have given in to every whim: To give one of many examples, Timmy is presented with a horse named Nijinsky on his birthday for the sole purpose, it seems, of working in a song about the horse, whom we never see or hear from again. I have to admit, though, that I did more fidgeting than most of the toddlers in the audience.

Photographs by Carol Rosegg

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