Filichia Features: THE BIG ONE-OH! Is the New Big One

Filichia Features: THE BIG ONE-OH! Is the New Big One

By Peter Filichia on October 18, 2019

Add The Big One-Oh! to MTI's ever-growing list of acquisitions.

Last week at the Atlantic Theater Company the 72-minute musical was cherished not only by the target audience - children - but also by their parents.

(Not every kiddie musical can say that.)

Some kids could genuinely relate to the story of Charley Maplewood, a fourth-grader whose parents are divorced.

At times Charley feels good. ("I started out in diapers, but look how far I've come.") Most times, though, he's depressed. His father is now a chef working in faraway Scotland. Charley used to assist him and admits "The most fun I ever had was cooking with my Dad." Everything was "so delicious that he let me lick the dishes."

Now Dad writes letters from Scotland, but it's not the same. And with a sister Lorena who's a not-at-all sweet 16 and calls him "lame" more than his name, life isn't easy.

Meanwhile, Mom is dating again - until her beau brands Charley "a freak" because he cooks and wears a hairnet while creating meals. Mom stands by her son and calls off the relationship.

Alas, that makes Charley feel guilty for essentially causing the breakup.

(Mom's wearing green scrubs tells us without any explanation that she works in the medical profession.)

If all this isn't enough, Charley has trouble making friends. So he's created imaginary ones.

Well, which young kid hasn't done that? However, Charley's friends aren't people, but monsters, straight out of his favorite comic book Monsters and Maniacs.

Now that Charley is approaching his 10th birthday - hence, the big One-Oh - a party is in the works. As he's told, "Birthday parties are so important that grown-ups make them. On a scale from one to 10, Halloween is an eight, Christmas a nine-point-five - but birthdays are a 10."

What to do? Charley can't just have puppets at his party. "No friends, no theme - so no need for a birthday cake," he mourns.

Still, Charley will make an effort. He'll go out, approach classmates, ask if they'll attend - and run the risk of being rejected.

(The little girl sitting in front of me let out a moan when she learned Charley's conundrum. She's apparently already had the same experience and could empathize.)

To Charley's immense surprise, class brain Daryl and class beauty Donna happily accept. Here's a lesson both adults and children can learn: ask. Don't assume the worst. Dare to ask.

Charley isn't yet in the clear. Bullies Scottie and Cougar (the latter's real name is Leland, but don't dare call him that) abscond with two invitations. One had been earmarked for Jennifer, the only kid who's been at least civil to Charley.

"I'm hurting people's feelings," Charley mourns when Jennifer finds there's no invitation for her. She learns, to paraphrase an old expression, don't trust anyone under ten.

We all love stories that make us wonder how they'll turn out. This is one. Suffice to say, though, The Big One-Oh! ends happily. Even Lorena mellows and sings "We have the same father, the same mother, the same last name - and we've got each other."

You'll need nine performers. Some will double as puppeteers who'll display those monsters. Just like Avenue Q, the performers who manipulate them are in full view. That allows their faces to enhance what their puppets "say."

Biggest of all puppets (and also maneuvered by a performer) is Charley's pet, the shaggiest of dogs. He helps the plot along when he returns home with a severed and bloody foot in its mouth.

Don't be grossed out. The foot is a fake one made by Gary, the neighbor next door.

If that makes Gary sound crazy, be assured that he's not. He's just preparing props for a community theater production of The Headless Horseman: The Musical.

If the show's title sounds familiar, you might have run into Dean Pitchford's young adult novel of the same name. Pitchford, an Oscar-winning lyricist for "Fame," has put words to music by three-time Tony-winning orchestrator Doug Besterman. Timothy Allen McDonald, the founder and CEO of iTheatrics (and one of the country's biggest experts on children's musicals), penned the libretto.

By the way, September 9 would be a good time to open The Big One-Oh! Statistics show that that's the day on which most people are born. So you're bound to get some extra audience members whose parents want to celebrate their children's Big Four, Fives, Sixes and beyond.


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