Ring a Ding Ding at The New Victory: how children’s theater should be

I love theater. I don’t usually love children’s theater; too often it is “good enough” but not more. Take a familiar story, noodle around on the synthesizer writing songs for an hour, throw it up on stage with game actors and a grab bag of colorful costumes, whatever! You’ll sell tickets. Call it a day. (I say this with authority because my first acting job, out of college, was a year touring with a children’s theater company, wearing unitards and aqua socks and dumbing down Shakespeare for sixth graders. We did The Bard no favors.)

Sure, kids like those shows well enough; last year my daughter was on the edge of her seat for an adaptation of one well-known children’s book that made me want to blow my brains out. But what if they had actually bothered to make good theater?

The New Victory Theater, in New York City, answers that question. They’ve been presenting world-class, sophisticated theater for the “children in all of us” for fifteen years. Thanks to MamaDrama, my almost-five-year-old daughter and I received tickets to their latest production, Oily Cart‘s Ring a Ding Ding. Both Maggie and I were thoroughly enthralled.

“Ring a Ding Ding” tells the story of a girl who loses her dog and then finds him. That’s it; that’s enough (I mean, I’ve seen $100-a-ticket Broadway musicals with less conflict). It’s in the way Oily Cart tells the story to its audience, seated not in rows of bleachers, but around a huge circular turntable that the children can touch. And SPIN.

The characters in the play are both actors and puppets (any child who talks to herself while playing with dolls or LEGO figures does the same thing). The puppets and props are made out of household objects, with an appealing kitchen-table-made and childlike quality. A pirate ship clearly read “COOKING OIL” on its side (albeit upside down). There is incredible live music, played by a friendly man named George riding a bicycle tricked out with every sort of homemade instrument you can imagine.

Ring a Ding Ding is completely interactive, charming, and from the moment it begins, utterly hypnotic. Here’s a short look at the show:

Tim Webb, artistic director of Oily Cart, says this about his very young audiences: “It’s great when they laugh. But it’s best when they’re filled with wonder.”

That’s true of any theater, for adults or for children– and Ring a Ding Ding has wonder to spare. If you’re in New York City before November 11th, do yourself (and the battered NYC economy) a favor and see this show. The New Victory (and Times Square) were relatively unaffected by Hurricane Sandy, but can certainly use all of our support now that shows are running again.

Tickets ($20, a serious bargain) can be purchased here on their site, or by calling 646-223-3010.

Thanks to MamaDrama for the opportunity to review!

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