at Organic Theater Company Greenhouse

At 11 AM on a Saturday the last thing most healthy children want to do is sit still and shut up. Veteran folksinger Jim Post knows better than to expect them to, and so participation is the order of the day at the Cookie Crumb Club. However, this is not some sort of socialization therapy group with unwilling children forced to prance about the room pretending to be flowers. If a child wants to stay seated, that’s OK. As Post reminds us, what distinguishes the Cookie Crumb Club from most juvenile theater is that it’s a club, not a concert.

Like the old Mickey Mouse Club, which it somewhat resembles in structure, this show is different each time, with new songs and games as well as familiar ones. Unlike a television show, the audience has a say in the agenda. Post–assisted by Kathleen Henderson (the soon-to-be Mrs. Post) on the stage and Meghan Strell in the light booth–acts as emcee, song leader, and sergeant at arms, but for most of the show everyone can sing along, mime along, or dance along.

On this Saturday morning the room was packed with jumpy kids between the ages of three and seven (accompanied by parents), who were also anticipating a birthday party afterward. Since this is a club, each child receives a membership card entitling the bearer to get in at half price forever. Many of the children present seem to have been rendezvousing on Saturdays for most of the 14 months that the Cookie Crumb Club has been in existence. That they have not grown bored is testimony to the variety and novelty Post brings to his project.

Armed with only a banjo, Post makes his entrance from the back of the room, singing a custom song for the birthday boy (“I’m looking for a birthday kid / He’s not timid anymore / Because he just turned four / I dreamed about a birthday kid last night”). By the time Post–a Mark Twain look-alike nowadays–reaches the stage, his gentle but clarion voice has called the house to order. He then leads us in the singing of the “Children’s Anthem”–relax, it’s the alphabet song–a ritual at the Cookie Crumb Club; we all rise and put our left hands over our hearts. The meeting now in session, Post invites anyone who wants to take the stage to come forward. The birthday guest of honor puts in a token appearance and then modestly rejoins his mother in the audience, after complaining of the bright stage lights, which Strell graciously dimmed a tad. The remainder of the hour-long program consists of songs and dances, the choice of which is left largely up to the audience. Post usually goes with the vote, making suggestions only to break stalemates–a deference that may disappoint audience members who would prefer more Post and less kids.

Today’s program includes traditional folk songs–though the “she” who’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes rides a bicycle, carries a boom box on her shoulder, wears a Ninja Turtles T-shirt, and sings “U Can’t Touch This.” Still, the essence of the song is there, as it is with an ecological variation on “The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly,” who here swallows a worm. More typical is the song that lists the many places not to put frogs–daddy’s shoe, brother’s backpack–which concludes with a wild dance around the room in imitation of happy frogs who have finally been returned to their correct homes.

Post doesn’t hog the spotlight, so the children have plenty of opportunity to make solo contributions. One young lady sang a delightful song about a bus whose passengers include crying babies and roughhousing boys and girls who instruct the driver to “Slap them boys!” This girl–who can’t be more than six, but already steals scenes like a professional–also danced a fine high-stepping jig. The spotlight shifted to a boy and girl who were three or four years old and who apparently met at the Cookie Crumb Club; they agreed to be married onstage, then requested a divorce some five minutes after the ceremony. At one point Post remarked, “I could put half the kids onstage and the other half in the audience, and then I wouldn’t have to do a show!”

Yet parents will be pleased at how skillfully Post keeps this bunch of wigglers from running amok, maintaining a loose and friendly tone that permits an occasional flat-out “Shhh” or “Sit down” without any danger of resistance. A couple of deep-breathing exercises mid-show also help keep everybody chilled out, as does a back hallway where overexcited children may retire with their parents for a moment or two. Whenever things seem headed toward a free-for-all, Post can always restore order with a hearty “What song shall we sing now?” (Henderson, whose role seems to consist of miming gestures in harmony with the song lyrics, is oddly extraneous.)

The Cookie Crumb Club adjourned with the “Monster Song” (“There’s a kid in the backseat who thinks he’s a monster”), complete with a monster dance onstage, which everyone was encouraged to join–grown-ups too. It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard so much as a word of sly “adult” humor to acknowledge those over the age of eight–which is exactly as it should be. I heard Jim Post sing back in 1979 to an adult audience that was not pleased when he introduced juvenile songs into a program of music for adults; no doubt the members of the Cookie Crumb Club would have resented their fun being interrupted by the grown-ups sharing a private chuckle.