Elephant & Piggie enthusiasts will pack the theater in search for their beloved friends, Gerald the bespectacled wary elephant who is devoted to his best friend, rambunctious Piggie the … well … pig.
From the opening scene, as they look for each other determined to connect, it’s clear that they’re kindred souls who mean the world to each other. They finish each other’s sentences, sing songs together and help each other. They even make up words that best express what they want to say because sometimes regular words just don’t get it across.
For example, how can you describe that your friend is the best in the world when even repeating the word “best” 50 times doesn’t come close? “Bestus” is the next best thing, so there you have it, the enchantment of two friends who just can’t get enough of each other as they experience life, together.
The cute as a button cast is led by Joe Mallon and Shayna Blass in the title roles. No animal costuming or gear is needed — Mallon’s gray vest and Blass in her precious pink allow a vivid imagination to fill in the rest. The actors are free to romp and play and take make believe to new heights of laughter and fun. Director Jerry Whiddon keeps the energy fresh and bouncy as the duo help each other, learn to do the Flippy, Floppy, Floory dance, share ice cream and get through a tough disappointment.
The lyrics by Mo Willems blend nicely with the music by Deborah Wicks La Puma propelling the story of attentiveness and care. That’s basically the heart of it—friendship surpasses all. You feel better when your friend is cared for and looked after, and you feel rotten when they feel bad, especially when it’s something you inadvertently did. That’s just what happens in the story’s poignant dramatic moments, Piggie’s feelings get real hurt when Gerald accidentally breaks her gift.
Sure, it feels like a “tragedy” when someone breaks your toy—especially when you didn’t even have a chance to play with it, and there’s a sweet innocence in that. While in today’s high alarm-filled environment, it could seem a little much to imply that a broken toy is tragic. The term fits perfectly for a pre-schooler. And that’s where the Elephant & Piggie stories are fixed, squarely from the perspective of a tot just learning to read, filled with repetition and simple messages. Piggie & Elephant aficionados will be blissed-out seeing their beloved characters sing, dance, play games and figure how to get past disappointments, right in front of their eyes.
Choreographer Jessica Hartman has a blast with the trio of “Squirrelles” as doo-wop background singers with Hairspray–type razzle dazzle, thanks to swingy fringed attire by designer Kathleen Geldard. The “Squirrelles” comment on the scenes, react to what’s going on, then finger-snap and jitterbug their way into and out of situations.
At one point, the script offers a nod to parents and others over age of 10 with a timely and cute rendition of Darth Vadar’s revelation to his son Luke, nicely done to keep everyone engaged. Another funny exchange occurs when the characters break the fourth wall to acknowledge the audience and invite everyone to sing and move, along with the cast.
Even with the best creative designing and intention, admittedly, some of us needed a little jolt to stay engaged because the bounce and charm probably fit more inclusively for the younger set. This is existentialism for the <8 year old crowd in “what should we do today”? full discovery mode. The characters ponder the next fun activity they can get into, then proceed down the path with no inhibitions, singing and laughing with glee.
ELEPHANT & PIGGIE’S WE ARE IN A PLAY!
November 27 – January 3, 2015
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
1 hour, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $25
Details and Tickets
The beauty of this production is that it’s a compilation of a number of books in the series, so readers will see treasured events enacted from Invited to a Party, Listen to My Trumpet, Sharing Ice Cream, I Love My New Toy—the works. At one point, Piggie insists that she’s leaving, and no amount of begging or pleading from Gerald will change her mind. After more agonizing moments than I want to admit, Piggie finally reveals while squirming to the hilt, that she simply Must exit, to use the potty. Oh, well, Gerald’s fine with that, and he finally adjusts to being out of her presence, only to find himself in an inner dialog desperately trying to save ice cream for her. The script covers moments like that, deliberations that mean the world to a 5-year old, and encourage care and friendship full of fun and playfulness.
While Elephant & Piggie enthusiasts will enjoy the stellar production, the older family set might do better waiting for the next show, OLIVERio: A Brazilian Twist! Ahhh, what an intriguing premise, already, right? Now, That one promises to be filled with poignant topics, risk-taking scenes filled with action, deliberations and consequences. Leave it to the wonderful range of the Kennedy Center mission to provide high quality entertainment and productions for all with sensitivity and inclusivity.
Elephant & Piggie’s We Are In a Play! . Based on the Elephant & Piggie Books by Mo Willems . Script and Lyrics by Mo Willems . Music by Deborah Wicks La Puma . Directed by Jerry WhiddonMusic Direction by George Fulginiti-Shakar . Choreographed by Jessica Hartman . Cast: Shayna Blass as Piggie, Joe Mallon as Gerald, Jamie Eacker, Ashleigh King, Allie Parris as the Squirrelles . Set design: James Kronzer . Costume design: Kathleen Geldard . Lighting design: Kyle Grant . Sound design: Elisheba Ittoop . Production Stage Manager: Maribeth Chaprnka . Producing Director: Kim Peter Kovac . Executive Producer: Mario R. Rossero . Produced by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.