It’s that time of the year again! Time to turn on your television sets and help the nation choose the Animal of the Year. This delightful musical that played at the Vital Theatre had comedy sharper that anything on television these days -- guaranteed.
After winning the coveted crown last year, Annabelle the Cat (Tanya Oesterling) returns to host and give up her crown to her successor, much to her thinly veiled dismay. Run like a cross between a beauty pageant and an episode of Survivor, the four contestants battle for the title in various competitions. But when self-doubting Harry the Moose (Christopher Totaro), the least enthusiastic contestant, jets to the lead, the other three contestants band together to try and stop him. When all is finally revealed, Annabelle is discovered to be the villain who tried to get all of the contestants disqualified so that she could retain the crown.
The music by Larry Bortniker was catchy and sophisticated. Book and Lyrics by Bortniker and Sally Deering were clever and unique.
All of the cast members gave top-rate performances. Oesterling played Annabelle the Cat with fierce comedic execution. Brenda the Police Dog (Stacy LeVine) was fabulous in her no-nonsense role and was a hit with her song "Sniff, Sniff". Her costume and dog ears were so cute you wanted to just get up out of your seat and pinch her cheeks. Mark J. Hayes played Lightening the Racehorse well and proved to be an effortless and graceful dancer. He played his character with debonair confidence reminiscent of a younger George Hamilton.
Hands down, Totaro stole the show as the apprehensive moose that is only in the competition because he accidentally saved a family from being trapped underneath an avalanche. When he wins he does not accept the crown, sheepishly stating that he is rather embarrassed at how all of them have been behaving.
David Shih played JoJo the Space Monkey and was excellent as the hyperactive contestant. When LeVine and Hayes joined him for his "Funky Monkey" number they were all hilarious.
Set design by Michael Schloegl was fresh, inventive, and great fun to watch, while Carrie Libling’s direction was exciting and sharp.
With energetic actors who have talent to burn, little ones might get a little spoiled with the fabulous production qualities displayed on Theatre Row. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing "We Are the Animals," the show’s final number, all the way home.
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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada