Fe-fi-fo-fum! This famous line from the classic Jack and the Beanstalk will resonate with pre and elementary school-age kids when they see the show currently playing at The Puppet Company in Glen Echo Park, Maryland.
Performed by Christopher Piper and Allan Stevens, the story follows the original nineteenth century version with a couple of exceptions. First, this mom is more politically correct in her support of Jack – she doesn’t reprimand him for trading the cow for the beans, and worries for his safety when he insists on going back up the beanstalk. Second, rather than stealing from the giant to merely become rich himself, Jack, who has fallen for the giant’s mute servant, only re-climbs the beanstalk to rescue her and her harp. For parents worried about kids being adversely affected by a story about an impatient mom and a greedy boy, this show is perfect. But for purists like me, this updated version falls somewhat flat.
Rod puppets are used for all the characters besides the giant who is well-played by Christopher Piper wearing a captivating mask with strands of yellow wool for hair. Penelope the cow is also memorable with her eyes that open and close and her feisty personality. Changes in time and movement are expressed through rear-projection scenery, where the growing beanstalk is particularly fun to watch as it snakes up the screen. The theatrical smoke, on the other hand, meant to signify Jack’s being up in the clouds, comes across as a bit gimmicky. And while there are some nice musical interludes between scenes, I was confused by the choice of bagpipe music and the conspicuous absence of harp music.
Still, the show has some humorous moments. There’s just the right amount of crowd-pleasing slapstick and the scene where Jack can choose between a cloak of invisibility, a magic lamp and a love potion in exchange for the cow (he ends up choosing the beans), is perfect for slightly older kids. The giant, meanwhile, gets a good laugh when he reassures the audience that he won’t eat us because he hates “American food.”
While this wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen at the Puppet Company, most of the young audience (many younger than the 5+ the show is targeted to) seemed captivated and rushed outside afterwards to see the giant’s mask and who was behind it. It’s a worthwhile activity for a winter weekend.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Script and Animations by Christopher Piper
Costume and Set Design, Puppets and Directed by Allan Stevens
Produced by the Puppet Company
Reviewed by Miriam Chernick
Running time: 45 minutes with no intermission