“Philadelphia Chickens” is a perfect blend of nonsensical wonders that will warm the heart of even the most jaded undergraduate.
By the time the show goes up tonight at the Yale Cabaret, it will have entered into its third artistic medium. Originally written by Yale College graduate Sandra Boynton as a book/CD package for children, this work has been adapted for the stage by the Yale Cabaret. Boynton, known for her widely recognized illustrations of animals, gave special permission for the Yale Cabaret to stage a production her work — and the resulting production is pleasantly surprising in every way.
Containing almost 20 songs that create images of farm animals that are cute but never cloying, the original book is an admirable work of children’s fiction. The play converts these songs into short musical scenes, interspersed with monologues that tie the pieces together.
The production is admirable as a children’s show. Even if the intended audience doesn’t understand the specific parodies involved in each song, they can laugh along with the lampooning of musical stereotypes, and enjoy the simple wackiness of the show’s humor.
However, the show is not just a bit of fluffy dramatic fare for children. The humor is clever and multileveled, so that kids and adults can enjoy it. Considering that the music of “Philadelphia Chickens” was originally written to stand alone, the Cabaret does an excellent job of devising campy and over-the-top stage performances for each song. At its best, the show’s clever staging allows the actors to reinforce the whimsical nature of each song, rather than merely adding another jarring layer. The humor is sometimes uneven, and some of the more contrived gags would make even toddlers roll their eyes. However, on the whole, “Chickens” has the power to delight audiences of all ages.
As always, the regular actors of the Yale Cabaret play their roles skillfully.
Jim Noonan DRA ’06, who also serves as the show’s director, is especially notable as the play’s master of ceremonies, Miss Auntie George, a singularly quirky rural matriarch. Jessica Stanley DRA ’06 also deserves mention for her nigh on perfect performance as a naive, wide-eyed farm girl.
Noonan’s directorial skills are apparent through the production, as choices of staging, lighting and character interpretation go beyond simply doing justice to the book and taking the show beyond Boynton’s original work. His re-interpretation of the original work makes it more entertaining to children and more accessible to adults.
As a play ostensibly for younger audiences, “Philadelphia Chickens” may seemingly not have much to offer to the average member of the Yale community. However, the remarkable capabilities of the Yale Cabaret make it a show worth almost anyone’s while. Despite the pattern set by the Yale Children’s Theater’s “adult shows,” children’s plays do not have to be laced with leering innuendo or pointless absurdity to appeal to younger audiences. As “Chickens” proves, cleverness and whimsy are sufficient to entertain virtually any audience.