BWW Review: A Victory of a Performance with ELEPHANT & PIGGIE'S WE ARE IN A PLAY!
Recently arrived for its off-Broadway premiere at the New Victory Theater is Mo Willems' musical extravaganza Elephant & Piggie's We Are in a Play!, written especially for the little guys in a theater that caters to children of all ages. When not watching their children squeal with laughter, even adults can't help but get in on the fun they will be having by watching Elephant, Piggie and other colorful and exciting characters turn an ordinary day into quite a memorable one. Happening now at the New Victory, New York City's only theater that is dedicated to bringing children the magic of live performances, audiences can now see six-time Emmy winner and New York Times bestseller's six-book series on stage, brought to life by an upbeat and wildly catchy score by Deborah Wicks La Puma and talented actors who have enough energy and pizazz in their step to make an entire theater of children immensely happy.
Produced by the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences on Tour and now directed by Jerry Whiddon, with choreography by Jessica Hartman, Elephant & Piggie's We Are in a Play! proves all that is great about bringing live theater and children together even before the audience sees the Victory's beautiful proscenium stage and decorum. Young children, holding onto their parents' hands, come bouncing with infectious joy through the theater doors. Adorned with little sets of piggy ears on their heads to show their enthusiasm for the show, one can't help but smile at their adorable glee as they get ready for the show they've undoubtedly been looking forward to all week. Parents, too, with said piggie ears on their heads, join along in the pleasure of seeing the smiles tacked onto their children's faces. This happiness, this stir or wondering what will happen, is prevalent even before you take your seats, and then the show itself begins.
Mo Willems, whose career started as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, really knows how to turn a simple idea of two friends who can embark on any sort of adventure they wish into something riveting, infectiously fun and even educational, all while making everyone in the theater thrilled that they decided to see the show. Even adults (myself included) couldn't help but smile at the friendship of Elephant Gerald and Piggie - comrades in fun, unintended mischief and rulers of ways to make their friendship continue to grow. Piggie, peppy and all in pink alongside Elephant Gerald, whose physical size is comparable to that of his heart, take part in entertaining circumstances that are thrown their way, discovering what it is to have a life made that much more beautiful in the presence of an inseparable friend.
With an orchestra consisting of Dr. Cat and the Bear-a-Tones ready to jam, Elephant and Piggie are brought together for an average day, contemplating what can possibly happen in the next hour that would turn the average into something extraordinary. When Piggie receives an invitation to a party, Elephant Gerald is instantly her "plus one" and with her decides what they should wear. What happens if it's a fancy party, or perhaps a pool party? Wait - it can also be a costume party! Piggie and Elephant Gerald arrive at the party and are joined by the Squirrells, three incredibly sparkly characters with the perfect voices and choreographed steps to spruce up any party, especially this fancy pool costume one! Everything that happens from there tests the concepts of friendship and what it truly means.
For example, should Elephant Gerald wait to share his ice cream until Piggie returns? Should Piggie stay upset with Gerald because he was silly enough to throw her new toy? Should their friendship whither because things are exactly going the way they both anticipated?
The real excitement of the show comes when Elephant and Piggie discover that they are, indeed, in a play, and that the audience has been observing them the entire time! What better way to encourage audience participation than to invite mostly excited children to clap, sing along and join the fun that's happening on stage? It really is quite wonderful to have a show that so easily captures a child's heart just by watching these actors on stage do their thing, but then to have them more excited with the chance to a part of it.
Evan Casey as Elephant and Lauren Williams as Piggie (both who originated the roles) are fantastic in their respective roles, each bringing exuberance to characters that constantly call for new wonder in everything they experience in the world. They basically mimic what it means to be a child, with ten times the amount of energy, staging that is planned but looks as though they are just effortlessly having fun and the happiness of performing... bundled all into one. Their performances engage both children and adults, proving that it requires a certain spark to get up there and make not only yourself happy, but young children at the same time. Along with Jamie Eacker as a Squirrelle/Delivery Dog, Julia Klavans (u/s Squirrelles), Jennie Lutz as a Squirrelle/Ice Cream Penguin, Justine "Icy" Moral as a Squirelle and Christopher Michael Richardson (u/s Elephant Gerald), this is one fantastic cast who deserves all the accolades they receive.
Once this entire cast has its fun, Elephant and Piggie tones it down a bit and becomes somewhat profound in its introduction of what it means that the lives of these characters (which is really a giant play) as both they and the audience know it must come to an end. Although they haven't any script to follow and must make up their lives from that moment onward, the sweetest message is when Piggie says that she's sure everything will ultimately be ok - that as long as she and Elephant Gerald have each other, life isn't going to get them down.
It's such a beautiful lesson to people everywhere - people who may not know what is going to happen, or where life will ultimately take them, but with the knowledge that that one good friend is with you, everything will, indeed, "be ok." In a world where people are so scattered in their thoughts and agendas, something so simple can be learned from a children's musical, and with one final song to end the show with quite the bang, audiences will undoubtedly be inspired by what friendship, some great music and a night with their children can truly accomplish.
Elephant & Piggie's We Are in A Play! began performances at the New Victory Theater (located at 209 West 42nd Street) on January 28th and will continue thru February 5th. The show has a running time of 60 minutes with no intermission, and is recommended for ages 4-7. Tickets are $17 for members and $25 for everyone else, available to purchase at newvictory.org or by calling (646) 233-3010. Performances are as follows: 1/28 at 11 am, 3 pm and 7 pm, 1/29 at 11 am and 3 pm (a sign-interpreted performance), 2/4 at 11 am, 3 pm and 7 pm (Mo Willems will be present at the last two performances on this date) and 2/5 at 11 am and 3 pm (a sensory-friendly performance).
Enjoy the show!
Photos by Teresa Wood