BWW Review: THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR SHOW is a Delight!
Do your children love THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR? It's a trick question: if they have experienced Eric Carle's delightful rumination on eating, growing, and transformation then the answer is most assuredly yes. On the off chance that your chicks are unfamiliar with this loving work, then they will certainly swoon with glee over the current revival of Jonathan Rockefeller's eponymous stage production playing Off-Broadway at the Daryl Roth Theatre 2. Filled with cleverly designed and beautifully painted working puppets, CATERPILLAR and three companion pieces from Carle's oeuvre - BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR; THE LONELY FIREFLY; and 10 LITTLE RUBBER DUCKS - make for a wonderful hour of imaginatively rendered family entertainment. While hewing comfortably to the plot laid out by the books, the magic of how these stories are brought to life by its trio of wonderful actors keeps the proceedings lively and engaging. For the performance that I reviewed, these delightful performers included Vicki Oceguera, Leanne Brunn, and Emmanuel Elpenord with able backstage assistance from Peter Brown who helped keep the show running seamlessly - and invisibly - from behind the scenes.
It is a testament to this crew that what could have been cloyingly condescending came out as fun and edifying. Each performer struck a marvelously unique dynamic in this well calibrated kaleidoscope of gentle lights and cooing sounds. Ms. Oceguera, a bemused pixie of a performer, represented the delight that a child exudes in discovering something new. In her hands, the puppets let loose a light wave of exuberance before giving voice to their latest adventure. Ms. Brunn performed with smiling precocious sophistication, especially as the purple cat in BROWN BEAR. Her characters were eager to explore though calm and precise as they did so. One got the impression that she was that kid who was ready to wear her mother's high heels to the sandbox, which was doubly enjoyable because the little kid inside was still present in everything she did. Mr. Elpenord tied the proceedings together with an air of soothing authority and technical wizardry. When his dog ran or fireflies flew, there was a masterful level of specificity on display that approximated the living and breathing animal within each puppet. Coupled with his grownup persona - particularly during his fantastic narration of CATERPILLAR - one had the feeling that no matter what happened, all would be safe. Watching him work, one imagined the next generation of puppeteers being born from inspiration at his artistry.
Surrounded by an audience of enchanted children - and their grownups - it was easy to get swept up in this bounty of fun. Pleasantly, even with encouraged participatory recitation and moments of call and response, the energy levels never got out of hand. Too often splendid moments like this grow manic and oppressive; happily, these performers led us through each story to a place that felt open from exploration. This production bills itself as "friendly for children with autism". As the godfather of a young girl with autism who suffers from extreme anxiety, I absolutely agree. The mood is well balanced between calming light effects, pleasant sound levels, wonderfully honest performances, and beautifully rendered puppets that put one in mind of Chagall. Whether you have a child or are a child at heart, THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR SHOW is a fabulous work of art that should be experienced by all.
THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR SHOW continues through February 28th, 2018 at Daryl Roth Theatre 2 at Union Square.
For tickets or more information call 1-800-982-2787 or visit hungrycaterpillarshow.com
The Performance Schedule runs Thursday through Sunday:
Thursday at 10am; Friday at 10am & 12pm;
Saturday at 10am, 12pm, 2pm & 4pm; Sunday 10pm & 12pm