Watch out, Curious George; there's a new rock-star monkey in town.
This week, the Palo Alto Children's Theatre is debuting a stage version of Cory Cullinan's "The Ballad of Phineas McBoof," the story of the titular Phineas, a monkey who's achieved fame and fortune but lost his passion and creative drive along the way. He rediscovers his love of music with the help of his oddball new band.
The musical is based on Cullinan's first two albums and books under the moniker Doctor Noize: "The Ballad of ..." and "The Return of Phineas McBoof."
"I've played many shows for the City of Palo Alto over the years and had a lot of fun. I got to know Judge Luckey of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre during that time," Cullinan said.
Luckey, the theater's artistic director, commissioned Cullinan to write the musical with the hope of fostering creativity in children and teaching them about the value of music.
"The storyline is actually about creating the band, setting their musical goals, composing the music, and performing that music," Cullinan said.
Cullinan has artistic roots in the Palo Alto area, where he was a music student at Stanford and a resident and music teacher in Los Altos after graduation.
"I decided I was going to be a musician and composer in high school... I didn't know exactly what medium or audience I'd be writing for, but I knew it would be something more expansive than rock songs in a rock band," he said.
Cullinan created the Doctor Noize persona as an outlet for his passion for music as well as his love for the educational aspects of the medium. He credits his own children as well as the children he taught as a music teacher for inspiring him to write music with kids as the intended audience.
"I don't feel the modern world engages kids enough ... This show is all about the creative process and tough creative choices," he said.
Cullinan now lives in Colorado, so the musical is more of a collaborative undertaking than if he were still living on the Peninsula.
"On all the productions that I have ever done, I have been intimately involved. But this time, I am in another state," he said.
Fortunately, the musical is in capable hands with the aforementioned Luckey and the Palo Alto Children's Theatre crew, he said.
"The kids are between the ages of 8 and 15, and they're really loving the music," said Luckey just before one of the final rehearsals.
The catchy music itself is very eclectic. Primarily a pop/rock score, it also contains a rap number as well as sections involving full harmonies by the young cast. Most of the songs contain bouncing piano melodies that keep the mood light and fun for the audience and performers alike as they watch Phineas and the other characters go through their musical journey.
"A lot of the songs are rearranged for kids. It is a half old-fashioned musical/half rock show," Cullinan said.
The production also involves some clever props, including the simian protagonist's banana-shaped guitar and a creatively constructed boat that "moves" across the stage in one scene.
And though Cullinan currently resides elsewhere, Doctor Noize himself plans to be back in Palo Alto this week, in attendance for the premiere to see his work come to life.
"The goal of the show is to get kids inside the musical creation process and to inspire them," he said.
What: "The Ballad of Phineas McBoof"
Where: Palo Alto Children's Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road
When: Nov. 3-13 (see online for complete schedule)
Cost: $12 child/$14 adult