Stage One Family Theatre opens its season this week with a new twist on an old fairy tale. The musical theater adaptation of Mike Artell’s picture book “Petite Rouge” infuses the Little Red Riding Hood story with Cajun spice, setting the story of a little girl who leads a fierce beast on a wild chase in and around New Orleans.
Directed by Gil Reyes, “Petite Rouge” opens Friday and runs through Nov. 1 in the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theatre. Public matinee performances are scheduled for every Saturday of the run at 2 p.m.
The Oct. 18 public performance is also a designated sensory-friendly performance, in which many environmental alterations are made to be welcoming to children on the Autism spectrum and other types of sensory sensitivities. (Here’s more about Stage One’s sensory-friendly performances.)
In this anthropomorphic tale, Petite Rouge herself is an adventurous duckling who roams the Louisiana swamps with her best friend. The wolf is now an alligator, and a swamp chorus of a frog, turtle and crayfish round out the cast.
Playwright Joan Kushing (book, music and lyrics) became interested in adapting Artell’s book as a way of connecting with her own son, who lives in New Orleans. Her adaptation is laced with bits of New Orleans and Louisiana culture, like Zydeco music, fais-do-do dance parties, the two-step and more.
“Little Red goes to take her grand-mere some gumbo and some hot sauce and some boudin – Cajun sausage – and wants to explore the world. She has this yearning to do new things and experience new places and people and travel,” said Reyes.
Best buddy TeJean, a cat, is a little more cautious than Rouge. But when she convinces him to wander off course with her on the way to grand-mere’s, they run afoul of a hungry alligator, a chef who thinks he might want to cook up a little duck for dinner.
“He chases them through the swamp and through a riverboat, and into Mardi Gras, and a Dixieland band. They’re using costumes and disguising themselves and running from the gator the entire time,” said Reyes. “In the end, they trick him into eating the hot sauce that’s too hot for him, so he doesn’t go after duck anymore.”
In addition to his position as Stage One’s development director, a role he stepped into in January after working for Rep. John Yarmuth for six years, Reyes is co-artistic director of Louisville’s Theatre , and he’s directed plays by Sarah Ruhl, Mat Smart and Rajiv Joseph, among others. But “Petite Rouge” is his first foray into the world of directing theater for young audiences.
Some parts of directing apply across the age spectrum, Reyes said, like how the director needs to marshal his cast and crew toward a single articulated and united purpose. On the other hand, the stakes are pretty high in theater for young people. Kids are the toughest audience.
“This is definitely an audience that’s paying very close attention, will remember a lot more than you think they do, and will care a lot,” he said. “And this is also make or break for them. If they don’t have a good time they might not want to come see theater again.”