The big question behind any judgment of Rainbow Company's "The Kid Who Ran for President" -- a new musical-comedy adaptation by former Rainbow member Jeremiah Clay Neal of two Dan Gutman books -- is, does the show capture the spirit of the author's world? As a Gutman fan, I easily answer "yes." You can quibble with this-and-thats, but Neal understands what makes this children's writer tick.
The first act finds 14-year-old Judson Moon (James Guinn) entertaining what seems initially to be a preposterous idea. But then, he and his friends reason, so many adults have messed up the office of chief executive, why shouldn't a child have a go? His elderly, wheelchair-bound friend June (Martha Watson) agrees, and 13-year-old campaign manager "Lane the Brain" (Ryan Meservey) thinks Judson and June will make a perfectly balanced ticket.
There's humor in watching how Judson gets elected, while the second act, though still very funny, shows us just how tough being president can be.
Neal's script, through his editing of Gutman's plot, badly mangles a late second-act plot twist that allows a cowardly deed to be rewarded (not good in a play for children). But he's also given the characters and plot a feverishly youthful feel. You're bound to laugh a lot.
His score has several showstoppers, including a celebration of a lemonade stand that goes national, and a campaign-headquarters phone call that turns into a hip-hop celebration of chaos. Neal's music seems at times more concerned with being bouncy than being true to the material. And on too many occasions, the score doesn't feel integral to the show. I hope the talented 20-something author gives greater thought to the difference between the demands of "just songs" and the demands of legitimate musical theater.
Under Brian Kral's direction, the cast is a fine blend of adult and child performers. You can feel the wisdom and experience in Watson's elderly character. She makes you believe she and Judson might really be good for this country. Jose Anthony is an amusing, no-nonsense Secret Service agent who has difficulty in dealing with a White House full of children. And Meservey as the ever-scheming campaign manager is such a Huck Finn-ish bundle of likable, uncontrolled energy that you can understand why someone would trust him with a presidential campaign. Well, almost.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.