‘Lyle the Crocodile’ at Imagination Stage by Julia L. Exline

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Imagination Stage presents Lyle the Crocodile, an upbeat musical based on the book by Bernard Waber and adapted for the stage by Kevin Kling. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and with Musical Direction by Deborah Jacobson, this zippy production is a great way to lead your family into the holiday season!

Lyle (Kurt Boehm) wins over Ms. Nitpicker (Brynn Tucker). Photo by Margot Schulman.
Lyle (Kurt Boehm) wins over Ms. Nitpicker (Brynn Tucker). Photo by Margot Schulman.

As the plot and action itself is not centered around the holidays (really, with a few set and costume tweaks, this show could be put on in mid-summer), the designers of this show display their holiday cheer through the technical aspects – scenery, lighting, and costumes. Scenic Designer A.J. Guban uses a backdrop of lit skyscrapers to depict New York City, with an impressive revolving center stage that reveals both the interior and exterior of a family home, painted to look like the illustrations from the famed children’s book. Oversized snowflakes painted on the stage show the time of year…but what year, exactly? This is best shown by Costume Designer Frank Labovitz, whose 1950’s fashion (think belted housedresses, winged eyeglasses, and big hair) is given a fun twist  with bright colors and spunky patterns. Truly, the costumes were one of my favorite aspects of this show. Labovitz even color-coordinates the cast for certain dance numbers; cloaking the ensemble in green tones for one, red for another. Sound Designer Christopher Baine lends an urban feel to the setting with effects such as blaring sirens and loud construction, while festive, swift lighting by Brittany Diliberto keeps pace with the high-energy dance numbers.

However, the most stand-alone element of this production has to be the fantastic Choreography by Kurt Boehm (who also plays the lead role, Lyle!) Inspired by Richard Gray’s jazzy music, Boehm’s quick steps showcase the overall atmosphere of this story. The cast dances together as a group, and it is a lot of fun to watch! They mainly use the style of tap dance, while throwing in fresh features to keep things exciting, be it the famous New York City’s “Rockettes” chorus line, or a prop piece like a jump rope.

The Primm Family: Jobari Parker-Namdar (Mr. Primm), Ashley Foughty (Mrs. Primm), and David Landstorm (their son, Joshua) are moving into their new home in New York City. In all the excitement, it takes a few moments for them to realize that they are not alone…a crocodile has taken up residence in their bathtub! As it turns out, Lyle (Kurt Boehm) is a gracious and gentlemanly houseguest, and wins over the skeptical family with his kind, helpful nature. It doesn’t take long for Lyle to make friends with the locals, either, including a hilarious performance from Brynn Tucker as Ms. Nitpicker, who warms up to  Lyle in a song called “Likeability.” However, every neighborhood has that one curmudgeon who proves nearly impossible to appease, and that is Mr. Grumps (Michael John Casey). Mr. Grumps has it out for Lyle, keeping a keen eye out for any excuse to have Lyle shipped off to the zoo. Will Lyle ever be able to soften Mr. Grumps, or will he find himself behind the cold bars of his local zoo?

Lyle (Kurt Boehm) and Joshua (David Landstrom) jump rope with the school kids. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Lyle (Kurt Boehm) and Joshua (David Landstrom) jump rope with the school kids. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The delivery of this simple-but-fun storyline is outstanding in every aspect. The actors all show great talent in their goofy roles, and give off the infectious vibe that they are having a blast onstage. Phillip Reid and Christopher Wilson steal nearly every scene in numerous roles, be it a pair of movers, cops, or firefighters. In whatever form they take, they never fail to start up a storm of hilarious bickering, much to the audience’s delight. A riotous group tap number called “The Swampity Stomp” drew waves of applause, and Mr. Grump’s love song to his cat, “Something About Loretta” is silly and sweet.

And would it be Christmas in New York City without an ice-skating scene? It wouldn’t, and this show delivers one beautifully. Finally, a friendly character named Hector P. Valenti (Matthew Schleigh) provides some narration, though my favorite part of his presence was his unwavering enthusiasm, which proved to be a stark contrast to the urban area around him that he was oblivious to. As a car blared their horn at him, he waved back with a grin and shouted, “Yes, I love you too!”

Silly, loveable, and hugely entertaining, Lyle the Crocodile deserves a spot in your holiday event calendar!

Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.

Lyle the Crocodile plays through at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.