Jeffrey Omura, Lauren Marcus, Lance Rubin,
Jason Williams, Lorinda Lisitza, and Kilty Reidy
in The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks
(© Joan Marcus)
Jeffrey Omura, Lauren Marcus, Lance Rubin,
Jason Williams, Lorinda Lisitza, and Kilty Reidy
in The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks
(© Joan Marcus)
Clearly, a child's introduction to musical theater can never happen too early. For instance, if Michael (Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams), the seventh grade hero of the amiable new musical The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, now being presented as part of TheatreworksUSA's 20th annual Free Summer Theatre Program at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, had been introduced to Little Shop of Horrors, he might have realized that planting the mysterious box of seeds that he receives in the mail might not be the best of ideas.

Adapted from Nancy McArthur's children's book by Joe Iconis, the show takes us to Levitt Lane (which scenic designer Michael Schweikardt gloriously indicates with a backdrop of a 1950s subdivision), where Michael lives with his family; perpetually stressed workaholic Mom (Lorinda Lisitza), conciliatory Dad (Kilty Reidy), and neatnik little brother Norman (Lance Rubin). Aside from the anxiety of trying to fit in with the big kids in junior high, Michael lives a pretty happy existence. He's unconcerned about the mess on his side of the bedroom that he shares with little brother Norman and blissfully unaware of the slights that come his way form eighth grade jock Jason (Jeffrey Omura) and cheerleader Patty (Lauren Marcus). After all, when cereal companies are sending the giveaways he's requested -- airplanes and even some seeds he doesn't remember ordering -- what can be wrong?

The seeds, of course, turn into the plants of the show's title after Michael and Norman plant them. What neither boy knows -- because Michael pitched the instructions before reading them completely -- is that if the plants are feeling malnourished, they'll hunt after certain items of smelly clothing (which abound in Michael's room). Soon, both plants are huge and mom and dad are working to cover up the existence of the "sockivores." Michael and Norman, though, see the plants as the best way to ace the upcoming science fair.

The book and the musical teach some valuable lessons about friendship and kindness, poke some good-natured fun at the men and women who run two income homes, and even offers up a couple of good-natured villains in Jason and Patty, whose self-centered meanness threatens to derail Michael and Norman's newfound bond. Iconis' music gives the kids a terrific rock vernacular which seems completely age-appropriate, yet which is sophisticated enough to engage adult theatergoers' ears.

Other aspects of the musical, such as Iconis' book and director John Simpkins' staging, aim for only the younger demographic. There's a cartoon quality to mom's frantic worries about not having enough time to do everything; Norman's dweebishness; and even Dad's almost-saintly patience that inspires giggles from kids, but strains the patience of adults, who can generally count on TheaterworksUSA's productions having almost complete cross-generational appeal.

Dirty Socks really just grabs the younger set; but that may be all right when you think about it. As the kids scream with delight or shout out warnings about the tentacles that are reaching out form Eric Wright's whimsical plant puppets, they're clearly engaged and accepting the reality of a world in which plants eat socks and people sing about it. And that just may be enough to turn a few kids into lifelong fans of the musical genre.