The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's current family musical, Pinkalicious, is as lightweight and sweet as cotton candy, and about as nourishing; it gives you a friendly sugar rush and all but evaporates on contact. Yet hidden within the show's pleasant, amiable presentation are moments of delightfully loopy comic invention, and throwaway bits so surprising and bubbly and odd that the production lingers in your head far longer than you'd expect it to. It's cotton candy, all right, but it's cotton candy filled with Pop Rocks.
Remember Violet Beauregarde, the gum-chewing little snot from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, whose ill manners and selfishness led to her transformation into a giant blueberry? Pinkalicious is like an hour-long version of Violet's saga, minus the Dahl-ian creepiness. Adapted from Elizabeth & Victoria Kann's children's book, the show finds its grade-school title character (Kelly Anna Lohrenz) giddily obsessed with the color pink. Yet after consuming a few too many pink cupcakes against her parents' wishes, Pinkalicious awakens one morning to find that she has magically turned pink, and the girl's initial thrill sours when her best friend doesn't recognize her, birds and bees - thinking she's a flower - attack her, and only one course of treatment is available: a hearty diet of green vegetables, which her mother (the enjoyably stylized Magdalyn Donnelly) tries to make "fun" via the creation of broccoli popsicles and asparagus milkshakes.
Given how many little girls arrived at Tuesday's sold-out performance in head-to-toe ensembles of pink (with several Pinkalicious T-shirts on proud display), the material obviously has a sizable, youthful fan base, and considering the morals of the story - listen to your parents, eat your veggies, don't indulge in too much of a good thing - it's a tale that parents, too, can easily get on board with. Yet what keeps Pinkalicious from ever being too precious or too preachy are its frequent scenes of exquisite silliness. The show is refreshingly free of snark, but director Kimberly Furness and her cast still manage to offer plenty of grown-up wit to match the rambunctious kiddie antics.
Your first sense of the production's cleverness comes when Pinkalicious chats with her pal Allison (Hannah Bates) on the phone, and Allison's end of the conversation is delivered as a sped-up sound effect that suggests a nattering chipmunk on helium. (When Bates herself does speak later in the show, her amusingly high-pitched, rapid-fire breathlessness is a near match.) But the production hits a true peak of nut-job inspiration a few minutes later, when - prior to the onset of her "pinkatitis" - our heroine falls asleep and dreams of a beautiful ballerina (Andrea Moore) en pointe, surrounded by a trio of leotard-clad pink cupcakes (danced, with endearing seriousness, by Bates, Jeremy Plyburn, and Tristan Layne Tapscott). For a brief moment, it's as if David Lynch had collaborated with John Waters on Swan Lake, and this deliriously goofy, miniature ballet opens the floodgates for a series of random gags that make you giggle while shaking your head in good-natured disbelief.
The family doctor (also played by the gifted, deadpan Moore) presents her diagnosis with the aid of a top hat, cane, and tap shoes. Pinkalicious' excitable brother (the thoroughly winning James Bleecker) launches into an unexpected blues ballad - "My daddy done to-o-old me-e-e ... ." - lamenting a boy's inability to fully embrace pink. The girl's father (portrayed by Brad Hauskins with perfect mock gravity) offers a comically anguished monologue, complete with tender piano music and mood lighting, on his own youthful fascination with the hue. (Freud would have a field day with this show.) And through all the weirdness, Lohrenz herself is wonderfully weird, which is to say she's just like any other imaginative, high-spirited, slightly hyperactive kid; the actress carries the show with unforced exuberance, impeccable timing, and a glorious smile.
It'd be nice to report that the whole production was as effervescent as its highlights. Tuesday's Pinkalicious, though, wasn't without its doldrums - the kids in the house (and a few of us big kids, too) grew mighty restless during Mom's lullaby and the parents' lengthy kitchen-table dialogue - and there were several opening-day snafus: a few lighting glitches, and some questionable harmonies, and a gospel-fueled bit that found performers singing and clapping out of time with the music. (Though, in truth, the speediness of this and other numbers made it tough to tell where the beats were supposed to be.)
But as Pinkalicious' Mom is fond of saying, "You get what you get and you don't get upset." Choreographer Moore provides plenty of jazzy dance routines, there's a lovely sequence in which bubbles descend from the ceiling, and every time Pinkalicious threatens to unravel, a new and happily gonzo development will come along to capture your attention - such as the refrigerator that sprouts legs and begins to meander through the kitchen, like something out of Tony Kushner's Caroline, Or Change? Or maybe something out of Coraline. Either way, it's a hoot.
For tickets and information, call (309)786-7733, extension 2, or visit Circa21.com.