Sandra Boynton
& various artists,
Philadelphia Chickens
(Boynton, 2004)

What fun!

From the first notes of the "Cows" chorus line, Philadelphia Chickens establishes itself as a jazzy Broadway production of the highest order. The songs are memorable, catchy and cleverly written. They're also mighty silly. And listening to them supports a couple of good causes to boot.

The "original cast recording" of an imaginary musical revue is the brainchild of greeting card artist and book illustrator Sandra Boynton, who joined forces with musician Michael Ford and a diverse array of surprising guest stars to put it all together. Who knew? Boynton is a songwriter, too -- and while she might be billed as a children's songster, this album proves her universal appeal. This stuff is fun no matter what your age might be (although Boynton warns on the album cover that 43-year-olds might be the only ones who can't appreciate it).

The revue -- perhaps the best stage production that never was, even down to the intermission -- begins with "Cows" by the Seldom Herd, and it sounds like it could be a bonus track from A Chorus Line ... if boy bovines could ever sing and dance so deftly. Meryl Streep does her best Betty Boop on "Nobody Understands Me" ("Why does my queckery biffle you so? Where will this ezzleboo dornut go? What do explectionary inyews know? When will you yuddle for me?") before the Bacon Brothers, Kevin and Michael, swing into the title track ("poultry in motion is a beautiful thing") for some fowl love, Philly style.

There are numerous highlights on this crazy, all-ages album, such as Laura Linney's pleas in "Please, Can I Keep It?" and Eric Stoltz's wholesome "Snuggle Puppy." For a bit of precocious bump 'n' grind, Patti LuPone admits that "I Like to Fuss." Caitlin McEwan evokes sweet, romantic longing in "Faraway Cookies." The name "Bob" gets a workout in John Stey's "Fifteen Animals" before a semi-mystical segue into the USO-worthy "Belly Button (Round)" by the Heath Sisters.

Kevin Kline is gleefully, frantically officious in "BusyBusyBusy." Following a nifty dino-trifecta, Scott Bakula sings a surprisingly sentimental, tropically mellow "Pig Island." The final song features Natasha Richardson with a "Silly Lullaby" ("go to sleep, my zoodle, my fibblety fitsy foo").

Philadelphia Chickens is utterly delightful. These songs will capture the attention of children, but the lyrics are slyly smart enough that adults will enjoy them, too -- even if the kids demand to hear them over and over and over again. The music also is toe-tappingly good, with melodies that will stick in craws young and old. But, unlike so many children's recordings on the market, Philadelphia Chickens doesn't stick with simple or lazy compositions; Boynton and Ford have crafted an intelligent package that should win fans all over. (Except, of course, among 43-year-olds.)

Originally released as a CD-and-book set, Philadelphia Chickens is now available as a stand-alone CD, too. If great fun isn't reason enough to buy this disc right away, then consider that your purchase will also benefit the Cystic Fibrosis and the Juvenile Diabetes Research foundations.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 May 2004

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