The concept of gratitude and sharing can be one of the hardest things for a child to learn. But in a world full of greed, these principles are vital to maintaining a semblance of peace and prosperity.
In The Magical Piñata, an original musical with book and lyrics by Karen Zacarias and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, one little girl goes on a journey to discover the importance of appreciation, humility, compassion, and other attributes that go to the very nature of selflessness.
Currently being presented at Keegan Theatre, The Magical Piñata is produced through their PLAY-RAH-KA program, which per definition means “a party you don’t want to miss” and focuses on theater for kids and families.
The musical is full of lively characters, puppetry, fun songs, and a strong moral lesson that is constructed in a patient and careful manner, perfect for children to absorb.
The main plot follows birthday girl, Cucha, played to a T by Ruth Elizabeth Diaz, who lives in the Mexican town of Zapotoco. Cucha is spoiled and selfish, and rejects the pile of gifts that her father presents to her as insufficient. So when a mysterious character, named Señor Cumpleaños (Danie Rodriguez), appears singing “Las Mañanitas” (a traditional Mexican song of celebration) and offers Cucha the option to trade all of her disappointing gifts for the most amazing present that will be filled with gifts of its own, she jumps at the opportunity. But, upon unwrapping it, sees that it is just an empty ugly brown pot.
At this point in the story, one could assume that the pot represents an analogy of finding beauty in the mundane and making the most of what you have. Author Zacarias delves much deeper than that though.
The ugly pot transports Cucha to a mysterious jungle, setting her on a journey to find the seeds of the past, the heart of the present, and the colors of the future. But the Monkey King (Andres Alejandro) and his Sidekick (Leigh Corbett) know that the simple pot contains magic and plot to steal it for their own.
Will Cucha overcome her selfish nature and see the pot for the gift it truly is? Will the Monkey King outsmart Cucha and steal the pot for himself?
Zacarias’ delightful play explores the basic humanness of temptations and loneliness, which can compel people to make selfish decisions. The characters are not good or evil per se; they are all learning. And in the end, the heart of humanity proves stronger than the greed of an individual.
Director and Choreographer Elena Velasco does a magnificent job with this cast of four, playing multiple parts. Silks are incorporated onstage, which are used for visual effect but also for a bit of gymnastics.
Alejandro as Monkey King and Corbet as Sidekick climb, twist, and wrap themselves in the silks, using knots and a significant amount of flexibility. Alejandro and Corbet are a fantastic, albeit bumbling, duo. The characters are silly and spastic, singing “The Monkey King” as a means of introduction. But their child-like demeanor places them on a level playing field with Diaz’s Cucha, and they are immediately seen as the lovable villains, whose poor choices are their own undoing.
Velasco also makes great use of Matthew J. Keenan’s set design, which is constructed of wooden slats with many doorways and curtains for the actors to run in and out of, portraying the various locations Cucha travels without the need for scene changes, which can often kill the fast-paced flow needed for a kid-friendly show.
Costume and Puppet Designer Nitya Ramlogan has created several interesting puppets using an assortment of mesh, wire, wood, and lights depending on the creature, all of which are manipulated by Danie Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a calm, soothing voice that is well-matched to the wise and kind characters he portrays, singing a song for each one. There’s “El Burro” (the donkey), who shows Cucha the beauty in the seeds of the past; “Señor Chapulin” (Mister Grasshopper), who exudes energy and life portraying the heart of the present; and “Parrot Rivera,” the passionate artist who paints with the colors of the future.
The Magical Piñata is a lovely production, celebrating Mexican culture, while also teaching the very important lesson that life is better when you share with each other.
The show is geared toward small children but I brought my 12-year-old son with me and he was fascinated by the puppets and use of silks so it’s fair to say you can bring the whole family.
Keegan Theatre’s PLAY-RAH-KA program has created a gem with a strong cast and dynamite creative team. I highly recommend this show as a way to take in some culture, escape the madness of the holiday season, and revel in the softer parts of human nature that make life beautiful.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Cucha / Villager Ruth Elizabeth Diaz
Father / Monkey King Andres Alejandro
Abuela / Sidekick Leigh Corbett
Kid / Señor Cumpleaños / Burro / Arból / Chapulin / Parrot Danie Rodriguez
Director / Choreographer Elena Velasco
Co-Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy
Co-Music Director Marika Countouris
Set Designer Matthew J. Keenan
Lighting Designer Dan Martin
Projections Designer Tewodross “Teo” Melchishua Williams
Sound Designer Twi McCallum
Costume / Puppet Designer Nitya Ramlogan
Properties / Set Dressing Designer Cindy Landrum Jacobs
Co-Stage Manager Ilyana Rose-Davila
Co-Stage Manager Leah Glicker
Assistant Stage Manager Delayna Antwine