By Marilyn Lester . . .
For nearly 100 years, Winnie the Pooh (aka Edward Bear, Pooh Bear or simply, Pooh), the anthropomorphic bear created by author and playwright A.A. Milne, has delighted children —and a lot of adults too—from young to old. This new musical stage adaptation of Pooh and his friends features established songs built into a new adventure, created by Jonathan Rockefeller (playwright and director) in association with Disney Theatrical Productions. It’s a real treat. These magical characters, reimagined as puppets, are on a Great Adventure in their home turf, the Hundred Acre Wood, and the antics are prime Pooh. Lovers of Milne’s creations, especially young children, will be happily entertained throughout.
For a little back story, Milne began creating the Pooh stories in 1924 for Christopher Robin Milne, based on his young son’s toys: Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Baby Roo, Tigger, Owl and Rabbit. Four volumes of Pooh that ensued in verse and narrative, were sweetly illustrated by E.H. Shepard. In 1961, Walt Disney Productions licensed film and other rights to Pooh from the Milne Estate and thus created a franchise that has brought these charming characters to animated life ever since.
Winnie the Pooh—The New Musical Stage Adaptation features these large and adorably accurate puppets constructed by Rockefeller Productions. They are sizable creations, operated by a crew of talented puppeteers who are at once quite visible but who also paradoxically become one with their characters through coordinated costuming and vocal and facial artistry. For the most part the dynamic works, although older children might find the dichotomy distracting. Jake Bazel voiced Pooh with perfection (he’s also credited with additional dialogue), and Kirsty Moon as Piglet/Roo, Chris Palmieri as Tigger, Kristina Dizon as Kanga and Emmanuel Elpenrord as Eeyore, Rabbit and Owl, were all very accurately tuned into their respective characters. While Rabbit and Owl seem too outsized to adult eyes, the kids didn’t seem to notice. The cast also delivered the eight musical numbers, drawn from the franchise, brightly and cheerfully, just right for sweet world of Pooh.
In an economical hour’s run-time, the plot of Winnie the Pooh—The New Musical Stage Adaptation tells of a year-long adventure, through all four seasons, as Pooh searches for a pot of his favorite food—honey. While the story could have used more reinforcement of Pooh’s objective—a more sturdy through-line, the antics of the characters were endearing and very much on target within the established nature of each in the canon. Pooh is revealed as a “bear of little brain,” yet friendly, kindhearted and steadfast, with the capacity for clever ideas. Milne’s stories subtly incorporated positive values into the adventures of the animals, and this Rockefeller captures in the spirit of the original tales. A missed opportunity, though, was in fully utilizing the character of the real boy, Christoper Robin (played by Kaydn Kuioka), into the adventure. The anticlimactic appearance of Christopher Robin at the very end of the musical begs the “what if” question; judicious interaction with him during the proceedings might have been a rich plot-builder.
The puppeteering and stagecraft of Winnie the Pooh—The New Musical Stage Adaptation were all delightfully first-rate. Original music and orchestrations by Nate Edmondson brought life to the Hundred Acre Wood both in songs and underscoring of dialog. Costumes by Lindsay McWilliams carefully echoed puppet construction and characterization. Scenic designer David Goldstein has obviously spent time in The Hundred Acre Wood, capturing the nuance of flora and fauna and the wooden bridge upon which the characters play the game of Poohsticks. Jamie Roderick designed the lighting and Matthew Lish was puppet and scenic coordinator.
Winnie the Pooh—The New Musical Stage Adaptation runs at about one hour, playing at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd St., New York City, through January 30.
For more information and tickets, visit https://winniethepoohshow.com
Photos: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade