Austen Nash Boone (center) and company
in Skippyjon Jones
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Austen Nash Boone (center) and company
in Skippyjon Jones
(© Jeremy Daniel)
Little ones learn some important lessons about the power of the imagination and accepting others for who they are in Skippyjon Jones, the new musical that TheatreworksUSA is offering free-of-charge this summer at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. With a breezy book and gag-filled lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila and a deliciously giddy Latin-infused score by Eli Bolin, the show also proves to be a great deal of fun...for theatergoers of all ages.

At the center of the production, based on Judy Schachner's picture book, is Austen Nash Boone's utterly adorable turn as the show's title character, a Siamese cat, who, much to the chagrin of his mother (Jose Restrepo) and to the delight of his three siblings, has what politely could only be called a vivid imagination.

As the show begins, mama is teaching her little ones how to be feline, but Skippyjon is imagining himself to be all sorts of other creatures. His inventiveness earns him not only a dreaded timeout in his bedroom but also a demand for an essay on what it means to be a cat.

Skippyjon attempts to do as told, but playful minds can't be kept down for long, and in short order he's imagined himself to be a Chihuahua named Skipito, who's a bit like Don Quixote, and before one can hum the opening to "Cielito Lindo" ( the "Aye, yi, yi, yi" song), his room has transformed into a south of the border piazza (Rob Orodisio provides the fanciful scenic design). Soon Skipito is helping a nervous band of fellow Chihuahuas, known as Los Chimichanga, against a nasty bumble bee (also Restrepo who channels a Latin Yosemite Sam), who's out to steal all of their beans.

The final showdown between the two is the moment when young theatergoers will learn how imagination and thinking creatively can often save the day, and once Skippjon has "returned" home safe and sound, the lesson that mom learns about allowing her little one to be as outrageous as he needs to be turns out to be a good reminder for people of all ages.

The fanciful tale is buoyantly supported by Bolin's tunes, where merengues, congas and tangos, with a musical theater flair, are prominently featured, and by Del Aguila's often clever lyrics ("Your complexion is fair/So you'll wear a sombrero" is one memorable example). Audiences can expect to walk out of the theater humming -- and perhaps even singing -- some of the pair's creations, perhaps no more so than "Crazy Loco," which amusingly and infectiously echoes Ricky Martin's "La Vida Loca."

Under the direction of Peter Flynn, and featuring lively dances by choreographer Devanand Janki, the company rips into the material with gleeful abandon. Alongside Austen's energetic Skippyjon/Skipito, there are a trio of doubly cast performers, including Veronica Reyes, Graham Stevens, and notably Gabrielle Ruiz, who brings a gentle sense of cynicism and aura of discreet sexiness to her turn as Rosalita, the Chihuahua who proves critical to Skippjon's success in this delightfully playful tuner.