Everyone knows the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” but have you met their peccary (“wild pig”) cousins, Juan, Jose, and Josefina Javelina? The stars of Childsplay’s “The Three Javelinas,” this sibling trio find themselves in a similar predicament as their swine counterparts but with a southwestern spin that many Arizonans will appreciate. Instead of straw, sticks, and bricks, the javelinas take shelter amongst tumbleweeds, saguaro ribs, and adobe. Their adversary is a coyote cub named Culver who is sinister in his plans but simpleminded in his follow-through, much like the wolf who squares off against the three little pigs.
There’s huffing and puffing and threats to “blow your house down,” but this musical adaptation of Susan Lowell’s “The Three Little Javelinas” and “Josefina Javelina: A Hairy Tale” also gives us a greater glimpse into who these javelinas are and who they long to be. Artistic introvert Juan longs for silence and solitude, Josefina has dreams of being a famous ballerina, and poor Jose just wants everything to stay the same. Even Culver the Coyote has aspirations to catch a javelina and join the Coyote Council.
After Josefina sets off to Hoggywood to pursue her dream, her hapless brothers find themselves each inexplicably alone in the desert. Juan, happy to finally have some peace and quiet, builds an artist’s retreat out of tumbleweeds, while Jose, the consummate corny jokester, fashions together a hut using dried saguaro ribs and the hair from his own chinny chin chin. Of course, you can guess what comes next as each has an ill-fated run in with Culver, himself out to pass muster with the Coyote Council, and they ultimately meet back up with Josefina. However, while I’m sure it’s not giving anything away to tell you the javelinas emerge the victors, I won’t spoil the details for you here.
“The Three Javelinas” has been in development for nearly three years, and I’m fairly certain the bulk of that time was spent crafting pig puns. From “Frank Swineatra” to “Bristle-Be-Gone hairspray,” the quips just keep coming. While a lot of these jokes went right over my girls’ heads, the play is filled with so many silly antics the first thing both girls said was how funny it was. Jula, my 7-year-old, remarked, “Kids will love this show because the actors are funny and it has lots of funny songs, and if you saw it, at some point you would probably laugh.” Lucy, my 4-year-old, said, “It was great! I liked the silly parts and the songs.”
The music is upbeat and catchy with more than a hint of southwestern flavor. Jula began shimmying in her seat as soon as the first song began, and Lucy insisted we all sing “The Hoggywood Parade” while in the bathroom during intermission (yes, that was us). A week later, whenever I sing out, “Culver,” Lucy still replies, “Oh, Culver!” and we both warble, “I’m the boy who brings you the news!” Needless to say, these songs will stick with you. Thankfully, they’re good ones!
Childsplay recommends “The Three Javelinas” for children ages 5 and older, which I think is an accurate assessment. Younger kids will enjoy the music and the hijinks, and they’ll likely recognize the basic elements of “The Three Little Pigs,” but I think the fast pace and sophisticated vocabulary might make this tale more difficult for them to follow. Lucy shouted, “Another house!” upon seeing Jose’s hut and was pleased to announce, “Next is the brick house!” at the site of the adobe bricks. But aside from singing some of her favorite melodies, after we left the theater, she couldn’t tell me much more about the story than what she knew going in (here’s where I admit that we only read “The Three Little Javelinas” prior to the show because this blogger didn’t realize the play was based on TWO of Lowell’s books!).
Jula said she thought the show was “fantastic!” While it was evident that she enjoyed the music and the dancing, my little artist was most excited by the costumes and set design. She thought the costumes as a whole were very creative, and she especially liked Josefina’s beautiful dresses (who doesn’t love a peccary in a petticoat?). There were a number of quick costume changes, especially by the brilliantly talented Jon Gentry (still my favorite!), which I think the entire audience found impressive and which Jula recognized to be “a lot of work.”
While Childsplay sets are typically somewhat simplistic, allowing the audience to fill in the gaps using their imaginations, the scenic design here was a little more intricate. In addition to housing the band on stage, the design included Juan’s rollaway tumbleweed retreat with its ingenious drop down door and window, Jose’s saguaro rib hut, which is actually erected on stage (I’m still baffled!), and Josefina’s adobe brick house, which Jula compared to a giant 3-D puzzle. As the set transformed from bustling cantina to arid desert to big city Hoggywood, I heard Jula whisper, “Wow!’ and “Whoa!” She even noticed the star-shaped spotlights on the stage!
Simply stated, “The Three Javelinas” is a knee-slapping, toe-tapping good time. The acting is superb, the laughs are non-stop, and the lively tunes will have you dancing in your seat. The themes of family and finding yourself will resonate with parents, while audience members both young and old will identify with having a hunger and chasing a dream.
Read the books, see the show, and share in the experience with your child. You’ll be glad you did.
“The Three Javelinas” runs Saturdays and Sundays through May 24. Get your tickets here.