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Paulanne Simmons

Hurricane Heroes


''The Further Adventures of Uncle Wiggily: Windblown Visitors''
Directed by Crystal Field
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. at 10th St.
Opened March 2, 2007
Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 3 p.m.
$12 Adults, $5 kids 12 and under (212) 254-1109
Closes March 25, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 9, 2007

Theater for the New City's street theater goes indoors for the winter with its staging of ''The Further Adventures of Uncle Wiggily: Windblown Visitors,'' Laurel Hessing's verse play for young audiences, with a score by Arthur Abrams.

Merilee (Clara Ruf-Maldonado) and Johnny (Christopher Grant) are rescued in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina while Grandfather (Craig Meade, in house) is left behind.

Crystal Field directs with her usually combination of puppets, masks and a multigenerational, multiracial cast. But the political message is softened and the fantasy is much more innocent this time round, as 35 men, women and children take the audience from hurricane devastated New Orleans to New York City and back again.

The show features 9-year-old Clara Ruf-Maldonado as Merrily, a little girl separated from her grandfather (her parents are both fighting in Iraq) during the hurricane. She is rescued, along with a little boy named Johnny (Christopher Grant) and brought to New York City to live with her Aunt Jane (Susan Gittens) and Uncle William (Oliver Thrun). When she is put to bed with her Uncle Wiggily storybook, she becomes Merrily Rabbit and Johnny becomes Johnny Squirrel. Their mission is to find their way to her Uncle Wiggily (Craig Meade).

During her quest, Merrily meets all the creatures in Central Park, including a pair of dispossessed hawks, a coyote and a grey wolf. There's also a dog catcher, bad boys, a little girl bear named Neddie Stub Tail, a flock of fireflies, a beaver, a trio of French cats and Ali the Cajun Alligator. Don't expect to keep track of all the characters unless you're ten years old or younger.

Hessing's verses are often delightful and never arbitrary. Like all good writing for children, they are in tune with the young soul but don't leave adults out in the cold.

Abrams has written a jazzy, upbeat score that echoes the New Orleans sound. The three French cats' original version (in French and English) of the Marseillaise is a highlight of the show. With a little better orchestration the music could have set hands clapping and feet tapping. But it's doubtful any of the kids will find the music lacking.

As usual, Field mixes performers at all levels of professionalism. But what some lack in experience they certainly make up in enthusiasm. Performers dance, sing and fly through the air with great gusto, and sometimes fearlessly. The fun is so contagious it may be hard to keep some of the little ones in their seats.

So if you can't afford ''The Lion King'' or you want to show your children what theater is really about, you couldn't do better than ''The Further Adventures of Uncle Wiggily.''


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