With a book by Anthony Stein, based on the Ezra Jack Keats story "The Trip," Captain Louie actually debuted more than 20 years ago but was recently expanded to its current version, which runs just a little over an hour. The story concerns New York City kid Louie (Jimmy Dieffenbach), who has recently moved to a new neighborhood. Lonely and a little frightened, he comforts himself by taking a magical plane ride back to his old block to visit his pals. It just so happens to be Halloween, so the kids enjoy a night of trick-or-treating and other shenanigans before Louie must return to his new home and face the scary prospect of learning to fit in with a new crowd.
Captain Louie focuses on friendship rather than ghosts and ghouls, so the Halloween setting isn't really a problem even when one sees the show out of season. But Stein's book could be clearer in a couple of the early scenes, which are sometimes confusing. Tuneful and highly enjoyable, Schwartz's songs are better than those found in most kids' shows, and perhaps even better than the pop ballads of his current Broadway hit Wicked. "New Kid in the Neighborhood" is a promising opener, and the "Big Red Plane" number that begins Louie's adventure is a highlight. Director Meridee Stein and choreographer Joshua Bergasse assist Schwartz in making "A Welcome for Louie" and "Shadows" menacing while ensuring that "Looza on the Block" and "Spiffin' up Ziggy's" are great fun.
Dieffenbach is perfect as the likeable, mild-mannered everykid Louie. Sara Kapner, Kelsey Fatebene, Brandon Michael Arrington, Alexio Barboza, and Ronny Mercedes are endearing as his friends, each investing his/her character with a distinct attitude. Kapner and Fatebene in particular seem to be naturals, as is Dieffenbach; keep an eye out for them in the future.
Louie makes his flight back to the old neighborhood with the help of his beloved toy airplane and a diorama; set designer Jeff Subik, lighting designer Annmarie Duggan, costumer Elizabeth Flauto, and multi-media designer The Joshua Light Show all aid in bringing the boy's fantasies to life on stage. Edward Barnes and Zachary Redler provide musical accompaniment on keyboards and percussion, respectively.
This is very much a kid's show, and it has clearly been produced on a modest budget; but when all those kids come together to create Louie's big red airplane as they sing the terrific title song, you're sure to have a smile on your face. It's just the sort of simple joy that makes Captain Louie worthwhile.