Review: ‘Really Rosie’ Is Really Wonderful
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, August 3, 2017
Really Rosie began as a half-hour animated television special in 1975. The script and the lyrics were written by the famous children’s author, Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) with music by Carole King (legendary pop songwriter and subject of the current Broadway musical Beautiful). The musical was expanded to a stage production and ran off-Broadway in 1980.
New York City Center Encores! Off-Center is presenting Really Rosie as the final production of their summer season. Since the original production, the songs and story have become a children’s favorite, as evidenced by the audience full of youngsters. There were special events set up in the lobby and puzzles in the program to cater to the younger crowd.
Really Rosie tells the story of a group of neighborhood kids who spend their time on the street, fantasizing about how their stories can be made into Hollywood movies. Rosie, charismatic and full of bravado, is a natural leader, so all the kids want to join her movie scenarios. While Encore’s presentations are billed as “concerts,” there was a cleverly simple set (a city stoop) with some clouds (with shiny streamers that fall when it rains) designed by Donyale Werle. Colorful, but reasonably normal, everyday outfits were designed by Clint Ramos (including the hot-pink boas that have become a signature of the show, of course). The musicians sit in full view, but in shadow, on a second level.
Taylor Caldwell was Rosie, and in her first song, she confidently announced her presence and that she is someone to notice. And she is—what a performer! But like many children, the character of Rosie is saddled with a younger brother (named Chicken Soup), who in the show gets the final number, performed wonderfully by Zell Steele Morrow, with his big voice and big stage presence.
Rosie directs the neighborhood activity, and the kids become individuals through singing and dancing their own stories. And wow, can these kids sing and dance! Each of the performers already have extensive Broadway credits, and while these Broadway Babies may look like ordinary children, once they begin their numbers, they clearly have the talent and know-how to put over a song or dance on a professional level. Standouts were Ruth Righi (as “Kathy”), Anthony Rosenthal (as “Johnny”), and Eduardo Hernandez (as “Pierre”). Interrupting her fantasies is Rosie’s mother, who calls her frequently from somewhere outside her world. (The voice comes from Charlie Pollock, who humorously changes his voice and his glasses to indicate the various adults who are always calling out orders from a distance.)
The dances were choreographed by Ayodele Casel, who appeared on stage in a tap dancing duet with the terrific Kenneth Cabral (Alligator). Normally, choreographers don’t appear onstage and perform in the show, but this exceptional number was great fun, first rate, and the two seemed well matched despite their age difference.
The story has some hints of Maurice Sendak’s typically darker, scary aspects (dark cellars, vampires, man-eating lions), but mostly it’s bright, energetic and sometimes silly. Carole King’s tuneful songs have become classics for children (like Chicken Soup with Rice), and they’re still bouncy and fun to hear.
At one point, Sendak’s speaking voice was heard (from a previously-recorded PBS special), seriously explaining how children survive through their ability to fantasize, and Really Rosie is a wonderfully entertaining example of that. The show is short, only 70 minutes, so appropriate for, as they say at the circus—”children of all ages!”
Really Rosie presented by New York City Center Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, on August 2-5, 2017. Book and lyrics by Maurice Sendak; music by Carole King. Directed by Leigh Silverman; choreography by Ayodele Casel; musical direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Carmel Dean; assistant music director: Josh Clayton; scenic design by Donyale Werle; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting design by Mark Barton; sound design by Leon Rothenberg; music coordinator: Seymour Red Press; Encores! Off-Center music supervision: Chris Fenwick; original arrangements by Joel Silverman; production stage manager: Adam John Hunter; Encores! Off-Center artistic associate: Sam Pinkleton. The Orchestra: Carmel Dean (piano); Kirsty Norte (woodwinds); Alec Berlin (guitar); Damien Bassman (drums); George Farmer (bass). Cast: Taylor Caldwell, Ruth Righi, Kenneth Cabral, Anthony Rosenthal, Eduardo Hernandez, Zell Steele Morrow, Swayam Bhatia, Jaiya Chetram, Nanyellin Liriano, Chris Lopes, Nicole Wildy, Charlie Pollack, and Ayodele Casel.
Cover: Taylor Caldwell and the cast in ‘Really Rosie;’ photo: Joan Marcus.