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So You Think Mouslings Can Dance? - a preview and interview with Stephen Sunderlin of the Vital Theatre Company

by Bonnie Rosenstock
August 25, 2010
New York, NY
Angelina Ballerina, The Musical
Book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo and music by Ben Morss
Vital Theatre Company
2162 Broadway, 4th floor, at 76th Street
New York, NY 10024-6620

October 2, 2010 to January 2, 2011
Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Special "PlayDay" performances Fridays, 4:30 p.m.
Previews begin Saturday, October 2
"Pink Carpet" opening Saturday, October 9, 1 p.m.
(Consult website for added holiday performances)
Appropriate for ages 3 to 12
Tickets $29.50 and $49.50 (first three rows)
For reservations, 212-579-0528, or www.angelinathemusical.com
First there were the beloved books – over twenty in all – written by Katharine Holabird with illustrations by Helen Craig starting in 1983 and as popular as ever. Next there was the 2002 animated TV series based on the books, originally produced in the UK, and still televised on PBS Kids Sprout. Then in September 2009, the CG-animated revival, Angelina Ballerina The Next Steps, began airing on PBS KIDS, with the DVD Angelina Ballerina: Love to Dance, which also uses CG animation, about to be released (and reviewed here).

Can the live musical be far behind? Of course not.

This joyous venture is the brainchild of the award-winning Vital Theatre Company, which is presenting Angelina Ballerina, The Musical, from October 2, 2010 to January 2, 2011 in their cozy 108-seat McGinn/Cazale Theatre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The show is based on the recent PBS series, so all of Angelina's friends, Alice, Grace, AZ, and Viki, dance teacher, Ms. Mimi, and the setting will be familiar to TV viewers although the story is completely original, said Stephen Sunderlin, artistic director of Vital Theatre, in a phone interview.

Serena Silvertail, Mouseland's prima ballerina, is coming to Camembert Academy – the Julliard of Mouseland – to judge a dance contest. All the mouslings have to sign up for a limited number of spots. Angelina oversleeps and no ballet slots are available. Ms. Mimi says she has to choose another dance form. What's a ballerina mouse to do? Being resourceful, Angelina, now eight years old, goes about exploring other dances, showing once again that you can reach your aspirations while learning from your mistakes.

"One of the goals of the show is to show kids that even though they may love ballet – and it's a wonderful, fundamental skill to have for dance – there are other wonderful dance forms you can pursue as well," explained Sunderlin.

Each of the characters –played by adult humans with ears and bows in their hair – will shine in the spotlight, as they perform tap, modern, Irish jig, hip-hop, and naturally ballet. In the end – is this a spoiler alert? – Angelina makes up something completely original, which is an amalgam of all the steps from the different dance forms.

HIT Entertainment, a leading independent children's entertainment producer, which owns the rights to Angelina (as well as to Barney, Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends, Pingu, Fireman Sam and Rainbow Magic) is partnering with Vital Theatre on this production. "They usually go into big arenas. For Angelina, they wanted to make it a more intimate theatrical experience, where kids can interact and participate," said Sunderlin.

Kids' participation is key to the Vital agenda, "to make sure they are engaged and entertained because they are future theatergoers and potentially future artists, and with this show we can introduce them to dance," explained Sunderlin. In one scene, Angelina teaches the audience members part of her new dance. There are also tentative plans for post-show workshops where they will learn the fundamentals of the dances presented.

The show is recommended for kids from 3 to 12, said Sunderlin. "Because of the costumes, sets, dancing, all the music, even if little kids don't understand, there is always an activity or action on the stage that engages them," he said.

Since its move to the Upper West Side in 2004, the company has concentrated on educational theater for young audiences. This season, Vital will have three shows in production. Besides Angelina, there is the long-running Pinkalicious, The Musical, now in its fourth year at the Bleecker Street Theater (45 Bleecker Street, corner Lafayette) in New York, which is also having a run in Toronto until September 19. Angelina will tour the U.S. and Canada in 2011.

Sunderlin promises a "pink carpet" opening on Saturday, October 9 at 1 p.m. Will there be a real pink carpet, pink being Angelina's favorite color? "If we can find one," he answered coyly.
Angelina Ballerina - The Musical Show poster

Angelina Ballerina - The Musical
Show poster

Photo © & courtesy of Lionsgate

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