Lifeline Theatre

In the best children’s tales a journey often counts more than reaching a destination. Whether the journey is Dorothy’s circuitous return to Kansas, Puss ‘n Boots’ picaresque service of his king, or the animals’ walk to Bremen in Lifeline Theatres charming children’s theater version of The Musicians of Bremen, on-the-road learning supplies the moral of the tale.

Steve Totland loosely bases his sprightly 45-minute treatment on the Brothers Grimm tale about four enterprising animals who manage to outfox some robbers. Totland adds a love interest, subtracts the cock, and brings in a stream of nicely serviceable songs by director Jacquie Krupka. Rightly so–as Paul Sills’s 60s Story Theater version showed, this folk tale cries out for music all along its path.

Different paths bring these all-too-human animals to the same predicament. On the eve of her marriage to Rudolpho the Renard, the cat Katrina (Sandy Snyder in a spangled polka-dot party dress) develops “cold paws”; she intends to run off in disguise (and, sly puss that she is, discover if Rudolpho loves her enough to look for her). Dodie (Meryl Friedman), a lovable schnauzer, was expelled from home for stealing Wiener schnitzel (something she protests she hates). Finally, Donald (Gary Glasgow), a famous bel canto singing donkey, embarks for the town of Bremen as a finalist in the annual “Music Makers’ Big Time Competition and Bake Sale.”

The three travelers meet on the road and decide to go together. They combine their resources to help them along: Katrina has an atlas, Dodie an efficient nose, and Donald a song in which he constantly reminds them how he practiced for the contest “seven minutes every hour, seven hours every day, seven days every week for eight years.”

Of course, no carefree journey would be worth its weight in story telling. Trouble enters with the Singing Bandit (Brian-Mark Conover), a larcenous fox with a fearsome reputation for serenading his victims as he robs them. Predictably disliking Donald as a singing rival, the fox wants to prevent him from getting to Bremen, and goes so far as to disguise himself as an old woman, serving the donkey a sleeping potion in a stew. Happily, the bandit’s true identity guarantees a happy ending. He joins the group, and they decide to go to Bremen to compete as a quartet.

Lifeline’s resourceful and very likable production–the latest from their popular KidSeries–is simplicity itself: colorful flats, cartoonlike props, and tartly Teutonic costumes by Margaret Fitzsimmons-Morettini. With bestial zest the Lifeline quartet throw themselves into Krupka’s sprightly a cappella songs, and Conover (belting out a torrid tango) and Glasgow (regaling us with bel canto roulades) prove themselves singers worthy of the coming contest.

Totland’s witty dialogue and lyrics take enough sly turns to keep even adults amused (Dodie the dog, pleading to be allowed to join Katrina on the way to Bremen, says she travels light: “I’ve just got some fleas and they won’t be any bother”), and the rapidly paced, rollicking songs should easily hold the toddlers’ attention.

We never do learn if the animals win their competition, but by the end of the story, it doesn’t matter; the journey is what’s important.