Versions, Vol. 5: “My Party Dress” by Kerrigan-Lowdermilk
One of the hardest things to do as a performer is to play a child when you’re, well…not a child. While the idea of it definitely carries a comedic aspect that would benefit you, there is also the risk of making it too much of a cartoon. Part of what can help such a performance is the writing itself, and one such song that successfully conveys the mind of a child in not only a comedic but endearing way is Kerrigan-Lowdermilk’s “My Party Dress” from their Off-Broadway musical Henry and Mudge. The show, about a young boy named Henry who moves away from the city where his best friend and cousin Annie lives and into the country. Noticing his struggle to find a new playmate, his parents get him a “great, big, slobbery dog” named Mudge, and things start to look up – until Annie comes by for a visit, and Henry has to decide if it’s possible to have two best friends.
I’ll admit it: I’ve definitely wanted to perform this song. Lyrically, it’s one of the most brilliant songs ever written. It completely captures the stream-of-consciousness thought process of a five year-old in a way I’d never heard before in a song, and it is a delight to hear every time. The way Annie’s conversation turns from the various spills of her party dress to the unfortunate events of her birthday party to being a spy to being a prima ballerina to her party dress once again is something to behold. A couple of my favorite performances are these below, by Jenni Barber and Colleen Ballinger, respectively:
Both performances are wonderfully fitting to the playfulness of the song, and aren’t “over-acted” in any way. I love Jenni Barber’s fearlessness and Colleen Ballinger’s innocent deer-in-headlights stare. This isn’t exactly a song you can nitpick, because it’s not meant to be an earth-shattering, eleven o’clock number or anything. And yet, it’s a great example of some of the best musical theatre writing out there, musically and lyrically. It’s hard to get into the mind of a child, but when you’ve got a tinkly musical score and a performer game enough to do ridiculous things onstage, I’d say you’ve got a winning equation.
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