Kiki Baby, a new musical by Lonny Price, Grant Sturiale, and Kitt Lavoie now at Theatre at St. Clement's, abounds with whimsical charm as it tells the story of its precocious title character.
The show -- which is based on the 1947 novel Sing, Brat, Sing -- is narrated by Kiki (Jenn Collela) who was catapulted into the spotlight at just four years of age, and is now writing her memoirs and looking back on her fifteen minutes of fame. Colella glows in the role, instantly endearing us to her as she flits about onstage. Even as she becomes a baby diva and treats those around her as pawns for her amusement, we can't help but smile even as we cringe.
The show opens with Kiki's mom, Christine (Jill Paice) losing her job as a seamstress in Europe when she's unable to meet the unreasonable demands of her boss, Markus (Eric Leviton). There's a tender moment when Christine reassures her daughter that everything will be fine, and then with an amazing stroke of luck, an impresario, who's in the building to audition an older singer, Marina (Jennifer Laura Thompson), hears Kiki singing along through the floorboards and is struck by her angelic voice.
It's a short road to fame from there, and the four-year-old quickly establishes an entourage of adults who go to great lengths to keep her happy. The act two opener, "Peep Peep Peep," encapsulates this insanity in musical snippets as it displays a series of humiliating routines to which the adults subject themselves.
Price and company paint a comically vicious portrait of how the show business machine can be all consuming, which is juxtaposed nicely with Kiki's undeniable charm. Her father, Maladin (Louis Hobson), upon returning after building a life in America for his family, finds a daughter he doesn't recognize and is the only catalyst for change in her life, underscoring just how easy it is to lose perspective under the seductive glow of the spotlight.
-- Chris Kompanek
Conceived by Hollie Howard (who co-stars) and Joey Murray (who directs), Tour de Fierce also includes three other talented female performers, Tracee Beazer, Tracy Jai Edwards, and Gabrielle Ruiz, each of whom also get a chance to shine.
The five-person cast sings and dances their way through songs -- mostly in a medley format -- from Broadway shows ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to Spring Awakening. Some contain some cute mash-ups, such as "Forget About the Boy" (from Thoroughly Modern Millie) with "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" (from South Pacific).
More often than not, however, the sequence of songs appears somewhat random. The best conceived section of the show has the women singing numbers that draw from their various theatrical resumes. The low point of the program comes in a reality TV parody featuring the cast as stereotypical divas in a show called The Real Housewives of Broadway.
Not surprisingly, the individual performers come across best when they get to sing the solos that they themselves have picked out. Hurder's jazzed up version of "Storybook" from The Scarlet Pimpernel is truly delightful, while Beazer delivers a funky rendition of The Beatles' "Come Together" as refracted through Tina Turner. Howard impresses with an emotionally-charged rendition of "Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden.
However, the choice to put all the solos back to back slows down the overall momentum of the performance. Additionally, since the energetic routines choreographed by Jordan Fife Hunt can at times leave the cast members exhausted and liable to go off pitch, spacing out the solos would allow the actors a chance to rest up a little before launching into the next big group number.
-- Dan Bacalzo
The show jumps between present day and 25 years ago at the fictitious summer camp of the title (based on French Woods) as Zoe (played by Mary Mossberg in the present and Alicia Morton in the past) -- who has given up on acting for a normal existence that leaves her feeling empty -- ignores a Facebook friend request from her old theater camp pal, Sheila (Andrea McArdle and Jenavene Hester).
Sheila also has a void in her life -- one that she's looking to fill with a revival of an unnamed show they did at Greenwood a quarter century ago when they were all young and full of hope and dreams.
Unfortunately, the show is as cliched as it sounds, and eschews any meaningful exploration of unfulfilled potential with a barrage of hallmark-like phrases and hackneyed rhyme schemes that would send any musical theater lover running.
The cast abounds with enthusiasm, but it's simply not enough to cover for songs like "Wings of Fire" and "Everything is New." The hardest thing to stomach, though, is how old flames reunite instantly as if their lives have been on pause for decades. There's little acknowledgment of how time has changed them and the space it's created between them.
The most poignant moment in the production is when the young and adult versions of each character are standing side by side on stage. That image resonates infinitely more than anything that's sung or spoken.
-- Chris Kompanek