“Babes in Toyland,” which is currently being presented at the Growing Stage in Netcong, represents a unique mix of familiar nursery-rhyme characters, goofy slapstick humor, sturdy songwriting and old-fashioned Hollywood-style melodrama. It’s also a tremendous amount of fun and an ideal holiday outing for families with children of all ages, with late-afternoon performances scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 16.
“Babes in Toyland” began life as a popular 1903 operetta (music by Victor Herbert, lyrics by Glen MacDonough). But this adaptation, conceived by Growing Stage artist-in-residence Perry Arthur Kroeger and Growing Stage founder/executive director Stephen L. Fredericks (with book and some new lyrics by Kroeger), borrows more from the 1934 Laurel & Hardy film — though it does use some of those vintage Herbert/MacDonough songs.
Mother Goose (Gloria Lamoureux), who lives in a shoe, is fighting eviction by her deeply creepy landlord, Silas Barnaby (David Spellman). Nefariously, he offers to let her stay in exchange for the hand of sweet, young Bo-Peep (Sarah Daniels), in marriage.
Bo-Peep is, understandably, revolted, especially after she becomes engaged to Tom-Tom, the Piper’s Son. Foiled, Barnaby tries to turn the tables by implicating Tom-Tom in a crime involving the Three Little Pigs (Cora Almendinger, Nicolas Drew and Emma Ramos, who also play Bo-Peep’s sheep). Believed to be guilty, Tom-Tom gets banished to Bogeyland, from which he must be rescued before Barnaby gets his comeuppance, and the inevitable happy ending takes place.
Playing a big part in all the storylines are Tweedle Dee (Danny Campos) and Tweedle Dum (Donald Danford); the actors fully embrace the classic comic interplay of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the ’34 film, impersonating them down to every last vocal tic and facial expression. Their joke-filled exchanges, alone, are enough to make this play something to be recommended, though special praise must also go to Spellman, who, as Barnaby, gets laughs just by the twisted, awkward way he moves around the stage, and the way he jerks Bo-Peep around, obliviously, while attempting to dance with her.
The costumes (by Lori B. Lawrence, who also directed) and scenic design (by Kroeger) are appropriately bright and cheerful, and Stephen Fox and Kenneth Hess provide minimal but effective musical accompaniment. Let it be noted that, even with some children in the cast, this was a smooth-running production, with no lines flubbed, and every word clearly audible.
There is plenty here for adults, as well as children, to enjoy. And as usual for the Growing Stage, the actors stick around to meet children, in character, in the lobby, after the play is over.
The Growing Stage in Netcong will present “Babes in Toyland,” Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m. (except for Dec. 2, at 3 p.m.), through Dec. 16. Visit growingstage.com.