NEW YORK (AP) — Like other people working in theater, Kevin Del Aguila deals with set designers, actors and lighting technicians. Unlike his peers, there are sometimes giant dragons.
Del Aguila is the inventive writer, lyricist and director who turns many hip children’s’ books into onstage musicals. He’s back this month with the premiere of “Skippyjon Jones Snow What (& the 7 Chihuahuas),” a free show at the Lucille Lortel Theatre which opens Wednesday.
“A kids’ audience isn’t different from an adult audience except they’re vocal. They will let you know,” he said, laughing. “There’s no critic like a bunch of squirming kids.”
Del Aguila previously helped adapt such books as “Click, Clack, Moo,” ”If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” ”The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Duck For President” for the stage, frequently for Theatreworks USA, a not-for-profit theater for young audiences.
A typical Del Aguila show is one that doesn’t talk down to its patrons. In “Click, Clack, Moo,” two actors in cow costumes sing to another: “Be proud to be bovine/That’s a fancy word for you/And it means you’re from a long line/Of creatures that go ‘Moo!'” (and “God bless the U.S.D.A.!”)
“It doesn’t have to be, ‘Oh, this is for the kids. Adults, go to sleep,'” he said. “As soon as you say, ‘Oh, it’s just for kids,’ you’ve really given up. You’ve kind of thought, ‘It’s not important.'”
Del Aguila, who has a 6-year-old son, didn’t initially set out to be an adapter of kids’ work. After earning a master’s in acting from Temple University in 1994, he came to New York intending to act.
But soon opportunities came up for him to write or direct and he turned nothing down. “It was very, ‘I’m around, let’s do it,'” he said. “Pretty soon, I had this weird bunch of different careers running all over the place.”
He wrote the book to the hit off-Broadway show “Altar Boyz,” was one of the singing trolls in the Disney blockbuster film “Frozen,” starred on Broadway in “Rocky” and “Peter and the Star Catcher” and won a Daytime Emmy Award this year for writing the PBS Kids television program “Peg + Cat!”
His new musical is his second “Skippyjon Jones” project, having written the book and lyrics in 2012 for the first musical to star the Siamese cat who thinks he’s a Mexican Chihuahua. It’s intended for kids aged 4 and up.
Del Aguila, who also directs this time, was searching author Judy Schachner’s catalog for a possible sequel with the creative team when they settled on her newest tale, which is a twist on the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”
“We were like, ‘This is the one,'” he said. “And after we picked it, we realized there’s a giant dragon in it. So we have to figure how to do a dragon onstage.”
Adapting a children’s book for the stage is a tricky thing, since the book usually has only 15 pages and a full theatrical event clocks in at about an hour. Del Aguila consults with the author and deepens the characters.
“There’s a lot of expanding,” he said. “You want there to be these things that keep us interested and wonder, ‘How are they going to get out of this?’ or ‘What’s going to happen next?’ In a way, it’s just like any other show. It’s just that we have singing Chihuahuas.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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