Wednesday, November 30, 2011

They May Be Comin’ To Your Town!

Theater Recommendations for the Youngest Patrons
Has your child been to a play yet? There are plays touring right now that could make a wonderful introduction to the theater for your child, and if your child’s a seasoned theater-goer, all the better!

I’m talking about clever productions based on children’s books: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical based on Mo Willems’ book, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favourites by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. Both productions are witty, beautifully produced, and kid-friendly in all the important ways. These productions value enthusiasm over silence; which is key, because the last thing you want as a parent is to have to walk your rambunctious child out of the theater because they’re too excited to sit still or they take a few minutes to adjust to the new experience of theater and “settle in.”

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is a production of the Kenndy Center Theater for Young Audiences. It’s the story of toddler Trixie and dad’s first attempt to fly solo with her at the laundromat. Knuffle Bunny is Trixie’s beloved toy that accidentally gets put into the wash. Dad has to go on a harrowing adventure into the washing machine—battling laundry—to save Knuffle Bunny. Without giving anything away, there are surprises that will move the parents in the audience. Toddlers are a handful, but it’s all over too quickly; so cherish the moment. The staging and sets are clever, substituting puppetry for props and projections for sets. And the moment when young Trixie steps in front of a vintage microphone, dons a feather boa, and sings a gobble-de-gook torch song to missing Knuffle Bunny is pure theater heaven. Your kids will enjoy it on one level; you another, which is why this show really is a great day out for YOU, too.

Another great day out is The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favourites by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. The play is—how do I put this—beautiful and sumptuous beyond belief. Told with puppets and rapidly changing sets, puppeteers wear black velvet against a black velvet curtain. Sets and puppets are decorated with vibrant paint that glows brightly in the black light that bathes the stage. The result is exciting, vibrant colors that jump out at you, mimicking the look of Eric Carle’s books. Children are encouraged to join in with the narration of the play, reciting the books they know and love so well. I was surprised as how well the children in the theater hung on every word, reciting along with the narrator. Eric Carle is a rock star, and this production gives him his due. The Mermaid Theatre Company tours extensively in this country, and they’re a crack team. They’ve created plays out of a number of beloved children’s books including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. See them. They’re what theater is all about.

Honorable mention goes to Mooseltoe, a very kid-friendly Christmas musical about a moose who wants to pull Santa’s sleigh. It’s enjoyable, but where Knuffle Bunny and Caterpillar are witty, even profound, this play is kinda cute. It all comes down to the writing, and the writing in Knuffle and Caterpillar is simply … better. But hey—I’m really saying that YOU might not enjoy Mooseltoe as much as your kids, who would have a blast.

At the end of the day, the theater offers a real and human experience that television and film does not. In the theater, we’re all in the same space, affecting each other in ways that are, well, thrilling. It’s food for the soul. And it’s a pleasure to be able to relax and enjoy the experience among folks who love and respect young kids. If your child shouts something at the actors, the actors can handle it. If fact, they expect it. Phew!

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