By Scott Heller
The ragtag troupe that weaves a tale out of everyday materials is an old theatrical reliable for a reason. As “Peter and the Starcatcher,” to name just one current hit, makes clear, there’s still innocent pleasure to be found in role-switching, hat-doffing, puppet-waving performers who construct their show in plain sight.
Yet the Boston-based ensemble Liars & Believers strikes intriguingly ominous notes in its showbiz fable, “Icarus,” which sets the familiar story of a child who dreams big in a Depression-era traveling sideshow.
Conceived and directed by Jason Slavick, “Icarus” benefits from Nathan Leigh’s generally clever lyrics and tangy score — a little Weill, a little Mumford — delivered for 90 nonstop minutes by a guitar-fiddle-accordion trio.
The world-weary Minnie (Aimee Rose Ranger) runs the show, separating customers from their nickels to peek at Turbo Frog Boy or to step into the Monster’s Maze (George Courage did the flavorful midway posters).
Fiercely protective of her dreamy daughter Penny (Lauren Eicher), she comes unglued when the girl falls for Icarus (Austin Auh), the son of the tinkerer Daedalus (Jonathan Horvath).
This “king of broken things” makes automatons out of spare parts, allowing Mr. Slavick, and his puppet and prop designers Faye Dupras and Marc Ewart, to go steampunk on a budget. Kitchen utensils and a wandering umbrella find their places; so, alas, do paper butterflies and one lyric too many about heading “beyond the horizon.” (Guess who sings that?)
The show’s most inspired invention is the sideshow attraction No Bones Magee, whose big number starts funny and ends twisted in more ways than one. (Veronica Barron has the cast’s best voice in this and several other roles.) It’s here, when the comedy curdles and the aesthetic choices gel, that you can see Mr. Slavick’s sardonic aims and envision “Icarus” really taking off.
“Icarus” continues through July 28 at the Studio Theater at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 352-3101, nymf.org.