Kid’s Theater Review: The Flea and the Professor (World Premiere)

With costumes and performances as vibrant as the most fanciful of iPad applications, the Arden Theatre’s world premiere production of The Flea and the Professor is the kind of entertainment most capable of forcing young children to lift their sagging heads up out of their laps while also filling their tiny hearts with a wonder available nowhere but on a stage.

The Flea and the Professor is the absurd final tale from the beloved Hans Christian Andersen (Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina) that’s thematically centered around love, loss, fond memories, and a quest for companionship that’s a little bit Horton Hears A Who, a touch of Wizard of Oz, and a whole hot air balloon basket full of crazy.

How crazy you ask?  Let’s see, there’s a tween cannibal princess (played with spunk by Alex Keiper), a red flea for a best friend (Philly stage favorite Scott Greer), a peg-legged pirate who’s actor acknowledges his other role in the show (talk about pulling back the curtain!), and the powerful power of a pinky promise – a device pulled straight from childhood that casts a youthful light on an oft complex narrative.  Then a finale that further blurs the line between theater and historical realism which at the same time ideally summarizes the live theater experience for young people who already like to kick sand on the line separating on and off stage.

Photo by Mark Garvin

The hilarious musical is narrated by the aptly named Storyteller, played by the impeccable Annie McNamara, who is both ever-present and yet never quite there.  There is grace in her guardian angel role and humor in her brilliant performance that counterbalances the on-stage insanity.

My children, ages 7 and just-about-4, weren’t in on every joke and that’s okay. The flamboyance of the characters and spectacle of it all were more than enough to please mightily.  Meanwhile, the Mrs. and I had tears in our eyes from gut-laughing so hard on multiple occasions during the 65-minute production.  The Flea and the Professor is, start to finish, the funniest kid’s musical we have ever seen.

Never before has a slow cooked human picnic sounded and looked so, well, tasty!  Grab a seat at this delightfully odd table and gobble up some family fun before the plates of this musical are cleared on June 12.

Suggestion: consider the 12pm performance on Saturday, June 4th 2011 and take part in the Arden’s Family Salon.  $25 gets your family into a behind-the-scenes with the actors to discover how The Flea and the Professor is brought to life on stage.  More info & tickets to this special event here.

*OWTK received 4 tickets to a Friday evening performance of The Flea and the Professor.  The opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased.  No arm-twisting took place in the review process.

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