Carla Woods, Aurelia Williams, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, David A. Austin
and Nick Blaemire in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Carla Woods, Aurelia Williams, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, David A. Austin
and Nick Blaemire in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
For some New Yorkers, the Lucille Lortel Theatre's air conditioning system is reason enough to see TheaterWorksUSA's world premiere production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie & Other Story Books. But a far better reason to attemd this 60-minute show is that most of the eight mini-musicals in it are funny, charming, beautifully designed, and well acted.

The show starts with six bubbly, young kids in a library; they browse through pastel shelves, and the actual published books that they find are those which inspired the short musicals that follow. The first of them is Arthur Perlman and Jeffrey Lunden's adaptation of Susan Meddaugh's Martha Speaks, about a pooch with a frightening command of the English language. The dog is a regular blabbermouth, and the family tries to figure out what to do with her amazing but somewhat annoying talent. Stephanie D'Abruzzo's performance as the canine amuses, thanks in part to her heavy, authentic-sounding Queens accent.

Up next is Faye Greenberg and David Evans' adaptation of Kevin Henkes' Owen. This farce about a boy who's getting too big for his security blanket is the most forgettable musical of the bunch, despite the enthusiastic ensemble acting and bright staging. Things pick up again with Avenue Q songwriters Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's musical based on David Small's Imogene's Antlers, in which a self-confident young girl (Farah Alvin) wakes up one morning and discovers that she has grown -- well, antlers. Although she finds these new appendages useful for drying her laundry, they cause trouble for the grown-ups in town. In one of the piece's best moments, the principal of the girl's school (Aurelia Williams) suspends her with a musical sendoff worthy of Aretha Franklin.

The titular tuner, Jeremy Desmon and Patrick Dwyer's adaptation of Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, is a cautionary tale about a rodent (Nick Blaemire) who just can't get enough cookies and a boy (David A. Austin) who can't chase him away. Nobody will be surprised at the musical's ending, but how it gets there is full of creative, unexpected plot turns involving milk, scissors, a broom, and a makeshift violin. In Mindi Dickstein and Daniel Messé's adaptation of Lane Smith's Math Curse, young Louise (Carla Woods) is haunted by the difficult arithmetic that she's trying to learn; she hears the voice of her teacher asking to express her bus driver's name in binary numbers and to discover the numerical secrets of tuna fish sandwiches. The story gives Woods many opportunities for comically flustered facial expressions.

Master Manis about an arrogant young fellow who thinks that nobody's stronger than he is -- until he meets a green-skinned giant sporting a gold necklace with the letter "M." Adapted from Aaron Shepard's book of the same title, this has the distinction of being the only musical of the bunch that's told in hip-hop style; songwriters Jordan Allen-Dutton, Erik Weiner, and James-Allen Ford prove that they can kick it old school with humor and authenticity.

Kirsten Childs' adaptation of Mary Hoffman's Amazing Grace is the most substantial and moving of these mini-musicals. The situation: Grace wants to play Peter Pan in her school play, but her friends don't believe that a young black girl can do it. Finally, Lopez and Marx give us their version of Verna Aardema's Mexican legend Borreguita and The Coyote. This tale of a lamb that outsmarts her predator begins broadly, but it holds our attention with the zany wit that is this songwriting team's specialty.

Thanks to Rob Odorisio's colorful and vivacious set, the tone of the show is understood before any of the actors steps onstage. Martha Bromelmeier creates some outrageous and memorable costumes, including dresses that puff out for yards, jewelry one needs sunglasses to view properly, and antlers that rise disproportionately high. Tom Sturge's lighting and Eric Shim's sound design reflect the show's boundless energy. Most impressvely, director Kevin Del Aguila manages to keep a clear vision throughout these very different plays.