Donna Migliaccio, Joshua Lamon, and Peter Schmitzin The Dinosaur Musical
(Photo © Mark Garvin)
Donna Migliaccio, Joshua Lamon, and Peter Schmitz
in The Dinosaur Musical
(Photo © Mark Garvin)
Last season, Willie and Rob Reale's A Year With Frog and Toad became the biggest selling show in the Arden Theatre Company's history. Now the Arden is trying to duplicate that success with another child-friendly musical, the world premiere of the brothers' latest effort, The Dinosaur Musical. And they might well succeed.

The show is being given a strong production under the direction of Whit MacLaughlin. It begins with the leader of the Tyrannosauri Rex, the wise King Marcus (an entertaining Christopher Sapienza), signing the "treaty of meat," effectively putting an end to the dinosaurs' nasty habit of having each other for lunch. But both Marcus and the treaty are short-lived. When the king dies -- from something he ate, apparently -- the evil Mrs. Gapp (Donna Migliaccio) and Mr. Glut (Peter Schmitz) hatch a plot to take over the T-Rex kingdom. In the politically subversive "Predator's Waltz," Glut and Gapp distort and pervert the concept of family values to promote their own selfish agenda, convincing Marcus's gentle son Quincy (Joshua Lamon) to break the treaty and declare war on the other dinosaur species.

As the T-Rexes prepare for war, we move to Swifty's Volcano Café, a throwback to the Parisian nightclubs where French resistance fighters plotted against the Nazis in the World War II movies of the late 1940s. There, owner Swifty (a Catskills-type comic, also played by Sapienza) is giving shelter to the heroic T-Rex outlaw Reginald Van Cleef (Ben Dibble) and his group of resistance fighters. Also seeking refuge at the café is Carlotta (Robyne Parrish), a cabaret singer on the comeback trail, and her 12-year-old daughter, Mindy (Kelly McCreary).

MacLaughlin moves the story along at a quick pace; rarely do more than a few moments pass before the Reales are punctuating the tale with one of the musical's 16 songs. Although none of these tunes have the show-stopping quality of the wonderful Frog and Toad number "I'm Coming Out of My Shell," the silly ode to Italian cuisine "Spaghetti" will stick in your head for hours.

The show is exceptionally well-cast. Lamon (who won a much-deserved Barrymore Award for his performance as Snail in Frog and Toad) is appropriately innocent as the young prince, and Parrish is excellent as the Ethel Merman-type songstress with the big voice and tiny dress. But it's Migliaccio who turns in the production's most memorable performance. Superb last season in the Philadelphia Theatre Company's presentation of William Finn's Elegies: A Song Cycle, she is delightfully depraved as the despicable Glut.

Thanks to Nick Embree's cleverly adaptable set, Richard St. Clair's lively costumes, and Amy Smith's imaginative and practical choreography (it's not easy dancing with a large tail and scales), the show's production values are every bit the equal of Arden's adult fare. Happily, MacLaughlin avoids the overt sentimentalizing that marred his Frog and Toad, instead taking a more vigorous approach to the material that gives the conflict between the prehistoric creatures a decidedly human dimension. As a result, we get a strong sense of the courage required to get along with those we view as different from ourselves -- and, in today's red state/blue state America, that lesson is not just for the children in the audience.