“Knock’ out room on calendar for fun show.

January, 2005.By Renee Valois, Pioneer Press.

“Knock, knock” “Who’s there?” “Knock!” “Knock who?” “Knock ‘em dead with a surprisingly original ‘musical comedy’ that’s as true-to-life as it is zany!”

The show that won “Best of the Fringe” at last year’s Fringe Festival is back, expanded into a full-length production, presented by Theater latté Da. Latté Da is known for entertaiing musicals but this one really colors outside the lines of ordinary musical theater.

“Knock!” offers a look at life from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Toehead, who lives with his mom, dad and tennage sister. Imaginative sketches – both literal and comic – form the core of the show. Childlike drawings provide many of the backdrops (projected on a large screen covering the back wall) and the show uses comic skits to cleverly convey Toehead’s experiences with family life, young love, the dentist, school and more.

Toehead formats his life in “episodes” like a TV show – with a theme song and goofy little dance by the family at the beginning of each segment, and credits scrolling down the screen at the end.

Three key elements – the video screen, the live actors and musical recordings ranging from classical to retro pop – mesh together so seamlessly that the lines between television, comic strips and real life blur in delightful ways.

When Toehead “rides” his unmoving bike down the street, childlike drawings of scenery zip by so fast that it feels like he really is racing – and we’ve entered a cartoon world.

“Knock!” contains practically no dialogue, although sometimes word balloons appear above the actors, or they briefly mouth song lyrics.

Intermittent interactive bits also engage the audience – including overly familiar knock-knock jokes that gain new humor because of how they’re botched.

Mining humor from real-life situations presented in absurd and uniquely goofy ways, the show overflows with clever sight gags and physical comedy.

Casting a man (ken Rosen) as the older sister elicits laughs when “she” sunbathes in a tube top. Rosen brings “her” bossy, mood-swinging antics to life with outraged expressions. Mugging and miming make the show, and Eriq Nelson as Dad, Lisa Spreeman as Mom and Michelle Hutchison as various characters are wonderfully up to the overacting task.

But Jim Lichtscheidl deserves special kudos, not just for his terrific turn as the wide-eyed, likable and hilarious Toehead, but also for creating and co-directing (with Peter Rothstein) “Knock!”

The show has all the exuberant energy of a precocious child, with unexpected humor for fun-lovers of all ages – from kids to crones. My 14-year-old daughter laughed as much as I did.

I bet you would, too.