Friday, April 20, 2007

Winnie the Pooh and Missing Pieces from Grown Up Theatre

Yesterday started out wet, for our sixth day of rain. When the sun finally appeared in the sky, we, of course, had tickets to go spend a few hours inside a dark theatre.

My seven-year-old enjoyed the production of Winnie the Pooh at the Wheelock Family Theatre, a fine professional theatre within walking distance of home. The set was colorful and elaborate, with a huge tree filling half the stage. The costumes made for cuddly a Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, etc. And the show was well-miked (some of the actors were children, so this was important) so it was easy to hear what was going on. The actors were energetic and engaging. The bees were a neat effect, and the kids liked it when Pooh flew in to the air with his balloon and (spoiler) Tigger jumped out of the birthday cake at the end.

The adaptation, by Kristin Sergel, seemed a bit odd to me. Kanga is new to town, and everyone is afraid of her because she's a neat-freak, and comes hauling her own bathtub and soap. By mid-show, she's kidnapped Piglet, cleaned him up and won't let him go. Later Roo runs away, and Rabbit and Pooh basically decide to hold him hostage and swap him back for Pooh. Who thinks of this stuff? (I'd better go check the original books, I guess.)

Probably my biggest problem with the show is that it ran about two hours, including intermission. My son, who has definite problems sitting still, ran out of sitting power at around 1:45. Overall, the show served as good practice for kids to get used to going to theatre, which is, I guess, part of what children's theatre is for.

The show reminded me that in many of the small theatres where I tend to work, we just don't get (or don't choose) to spend enough time and effort on the spectacle of theatre. Watching children's theatre reminds you that we need to have something interesting to look at on stage. Something colorful is nice, if you can swing it. I do my fair share of complaining that big theatres spend more on fancy sets than they do on royalties to playwrights, it's not always wasted money. Small theatres could do a lot better and are cheating audiences of an essential part of the theatre experience (yet another reason why people don't go to plays).

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