By Rebecca Anzel
Curious George is still going on adventures after 75 years of entertaining children. Through Aug. 28, the actors at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts transform the story of “Curious George: The Golden Meatball” into an hour-long musical performance.
In this play, George helps his friend Chef Pisghetti cook meatballs for the annual All You Can Eat Meatball Day. George had been excited to help the chef cook and serve guests, but when the day came, there was no one in Chef Pisghetti’s restaurant to serve the meatballs to. Instead, the crowd was captivated by Phinneas T. Lightspeed’s meatball-making machine. Upset by Lightspeed’s rhymes, fancy coat and blue meatballs, Chef Pisghetti declared he would never cook again. George, though, wants to help the chef rediscover his passion and talent. He travels all the way to Rome to enter his friend’s meatballs into the Golden Meatball Contest.
This story is based on the originals written by Margret and H.A. Rey, who took their manuscript of “Curious George” out of Paris during World War II. As Jews, the Reys decided to flee Paris before the Nazis seized the city. H.A. Rey assembled two bicycles, and they fled Paris just a few hours before it fell. Among the meager possessions they brought with them was the illustrated manuscript of “Curious George.”
The stories were later turned into a PBS Kids cartoon, which is still airing.
Directed by Brianne Boyd, the adult cast of “The Golden Meatball” kept the audience laughing throughout. Marisa Guardino, as George, is complemented perfectly by the other five actors, each of whom played more than one character. It is a testament to costume designer Ronald R. Green III that each of those wardrobe changes happened seamlessly.
Brian Gill, who plays the Man in the Yellow Hat for all Sunday performances, was excellent. Gill brought the same spirit to the role as the character he plays is known for — a responsible and trusting parent to George who can laugh and have fun.
Bobby Montaniz was convincing as Chef Pisghetti. His playful Italian accent and spirited exclamation of “ba da boopie” at the end of a few of his phrases elicited giggles from the audience. Tommy Castelli (Phinneas T. Lightspeed and others), Emily Attridge (Netti and others) and Meagan Materazo (Doorman and others) all worked well with Montaniz in the various roles they performed as partners. The four delivered punchy jokes aimed at parents expertly, like one when Castelli was delivering a package to George by himself, and Materazo asked him where his fellow delivery men were. Castelli looked at the audience, shrugged and replied, “budget cuts.”
Guardino as Curious George stole the show. Her voice perfectly mirrored that of the cartoon character, and her dance moves, from shakes to splits, endeared her character to the children in the audience. The audience also participated during several of the times Guardino and others would ask for directions or confirmation. The cheers for her at the end of the performance were the loudest.
With original music by John Kavanaugh and book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon, the songs in “The Golden Meatball” were lighthearted and familiar to a few of the children, who could be heard singing along — especially with the Curious George theme song with which the show started and ended.
After the cast sang “George Goes to Rome” and “A Buddy like you,” Chef Pisghetti thanks his friend for traveling all the way to Italy to enter him in the meatball competition. “I’m so lucky to have a buddy like you,” he tells George, whom he affectionately calls Giorgio. George ends up having to cook the chef’s meatballs all by himself at the competition, and he is worried he does not have the chef’s secret ingredient. But after he wins the competition and Chef Pisghetti finally makes it to the contest, he tells George the meatballs he cooked came out so well because he had the secret ingredient — love.
With the cast’s energy and familiar songs, “The Golden Meatball” is the perfect show for young children. Just bring a sweater — the theater is a little chilly. The actors are available after their bows for photos and autographs, although Artistic Director Ken Washington warned that because George is a monkey, “he can’t really sign things.”
Children’s theater will continue at the Smithtown Center for Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, with “Elf the Musical, Jr.” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30, “Shrek the Musical, Jr.” from Jan. 21 through Feb. 26 and “Annie, Jr.” from March 18 to April 15. All tickets are $15. To order, call the box office at 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.