Bad manners can manifest themselves in ways too numerous to ponder. Consider the father who cooks breakfast for his son but leaves the mess for his wife to clean up. Or the inconsiderate person who talks on his cellphone in a crowded restaurant.
They're situations that formed the basis of “Piggy Nation: A Day at Work With Dad,” a children's book that teaches young kids about the negative results of thoughtless behavior. Published in 2011, the book was recently adapted into a musical that opens this week at off-Broadway's Snapple Theatre Center.
The idea for “Piggy Nation” arose when author and native Oklahoman Richard Rosser watched a guy in a Corvette steal a parking space from his mother-in-law. Incensed with the man's selfish behavior, the California resident embarked on a mission to prevent “piggy” behavior.
Rosser teamed up with Shane Sowell, an illustrator who created the colorful visuals that brought the author's characters to life. The story follows a day in the young life of Sammy Hamhock. On his first day of summer vacation, Sammy gets to accompany his dad to work.
Whenever his father observes “piggy” behavior, the patrol officer tickets the offender.
But Sammy's father is oblivious to his own actions, which include driving his car through a flamingo's flower bed and creating a traffic jam when he stops to ticket a littering lizard. Asked to pick out the worst offender, Sammy decides to ticket his father for failing to realize his own “piggy” behavior.
Rosser decided to get his message about the importance of thoughtfulness and consideration by reading his story to groups of young school children. Trying to figure out the best way to open a school assembly, Rosser made his cellphone ring, then answered it while munching on potato chips.
“Right away, one of the kids said, ‘Hey mister, you can't talk (on a phone) during an assembly.' They were already clued into the whole ‘piggy' behavior thing,” Rosser said. “I wondered then if I could get some kids to do a little play based on the story. And if it could be a play, why not make it into a musical?”
Rosser adapted his children's book for the stage and wrote lyrics to Alec Wells' music. The production, which targets kids ages 3 to 10, will play at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon Sundays at a 199-seat house located in the heart of the theater district at 50th and Broadway.
Turning a 30-page children's book into a 65-minute, one-act musical required Rosser to embellish the plot and make room for musical numbers. He introduced the character Lacey Leppard, who becomes the object of Sammy's affections. But Sammy worries that he'll lose Lacey because of his father's piggy behavior.
“I didn't want it to sound like a classic children's musical with a plinky piano or an ice capades kind of feel,” Rosser said. “Alec and I hit it off immediately. We wrote what we enjoyed, which meant the musical has some guitar riffs and film noir effects.
“I was fortunate to get ‘Piggy Nation' produced in Los Angeles as well as at the Sooner Theatre in Norman. In both places, there was an amazing group of kids who did a fantastic job realizing these characters that nobody had ever seen before. It was a perfect way to workshop the musical. By the time the New York production happened, we just needed to hone a few things.”
Directed by Kim Moore with musical direction by Rona Siddiqui, the musical “Piggy Nation” features a cast of eight and two understudies. Producers are Jenna Doolittle, Catherine Russell and Piggy Nation LLC.
“When I set out to write it, I didn't want to create something that was just for kids,” Rosser said. “It needed to be fun for adults too. When all the piggy behavior comes to a head at the end of the show, the adults are laughing just as much if not more than the kids.”
For more information, go to www.piggynationnyc.com.