Performing Arts

‘Rated P’ is a gem of a summer musical revue

Actors’ Playhouse and artistic director David Arisco like to keep things light during the summer. Hence the “topical musical revue” slot, which now happens to be occupied by a particularly terrific example of the genre.

This year’s treat is Rated P for Parenthood, a savvy, insightful and funny look at raising kids from cradle to college. The theater’s past revues have ranged from so-so to super; Rated P is definitely at the high end of Actors’ summer fare.

The scenes and some of the lyrics are by Sandy Rustin, with music and more lyrics by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer. The creators mostly avoid cutesiness (though not, happily, tenderness), instead opting for an adult look at the parenting journey. The revue also sports an undeniable undercurrent of lust -- that is, after all, how the show’s myriad characters became parents.

Arisco, whose direction is smart and comically adroit without going over the top, made his smartest decisions in the casting process. Jim Ballard, Amy Miller Brennan, Henry Gainza and Julie Kleiner each possess the chameleonic talents that a fast-paced revue requires. They can age in an instant, morph into sullen teens, turn awkward questions about sex into funny bits of verbal tap dancing. And under Manny Schvartzman’s musical direction, their powerhouse voices blend beautifully and shine in solos.

Ballard and Gainza strut their versatility, first playing strangers who’d like to chat as they watch their sons play at a park but think that might be weird. Then they rev up to talk to their kids’ teachers on the hip-hop number Parent Teacher Conference. Later, playing gay guys who are the fathers to triplet boys, they remind us that kids seldom turn out as we expect.

Miller Brennan and Kleiner are just as adept at embodying a broad range of characters. Miller Brennan plays a crafty new grandma, a jittery single mom trying to get her kid into a snooty preschool, a Harvard grad intimidated by her inability to do eighth grad math. Kleiner is an exhausted mom crooning the lovely Little Boy to her restless newborn, a pretty “tooth fairy” who knows just how fast kids grow, a feisty teen who tries to sell her mom on the idea that a condom falls into the category of school supplies.

Gene Seyffer’s turntable set, sporting blow-ups of parenting magazine covers and over-sized cell phones that sometimes (though not, near the end, on opening night) blink to life with funny text messages, allows for quick scenic changes. Ellis Tillman’s character- and age-defining costumes, Patrick Tennent’s lighting and Alexander Herrin’s sound design swiftly plunge the audience into different worlds.

Naturally, parents will dig the resonant situations in Rated P for Parenthood, but those who are childless by choice or chance can enjoy it too. This is one summer musical revue that should be rated G for “gem.”