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A CurtainUp Review
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Based on four of Eric Carle's classic books — The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mister Seahorse, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar — Jonathan Rockefeller's production which began in Australia is making its New York premiere. So grab your youngster and head straight to the 47th Street Theatre for this family-friendly show with its 75 colorful puppets. It's faithful to the original stories that kids have loved for decades.
First up is The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. John Weston leads the five-member cast of puppeteers and does double-duty as narrator. "I am an artist," he says, as he walks over to a large easel on stage and with paint-brushes and much sleight-of-hand creates pictures of a blue horse, a red crocodile, a yellow cow, a green lion, and more. Jake Bazel, Ariel Lauryn, Kayla Prestel, and Mindy Leanse join him to assist with props and maneuver the large puppets which look-like mirror-images of Carle's original collage-like illustrations.
The puppeteers use a light-handed touch—and keep the puppets moving across the stage at a brisk clip, inviting the audience into a world where magical animals have adventures and do extraordinary things. At scene's end Weston puts down his paintbrush, kicks up his heels and does a jazzy dance with a polka-dot donkey.
Next comes Mr. Seahorse which shifts everyone's attention from dry land to the depths of the sea. Ariel Lauryn, steps in as narrator here, and the other cast members don swim masks and underwater snorkels to bring the story of Mr. and Mrs. Seahorse to life with puppets that evoke the tropical marine world. There's no question that everyone, including yours truly, became fascinated with the adventures of the two seahorses who try to begin their family in the topsy-turvy sea. The story creatively chronicles the peculiar life cycle of sea horses, in which the male seahorse becomes pregnant and actually carries the female's eggs in a "pouch" and nurture them before they hatch. ( Carle's stories are known for their themes of nature and brilliant interpretations of the complexities of the natural world).
Leaving the watery depths the show surfaces into the air with The Very Lonely Firefly. Jake Bazel narrates this tale about one little firefly who goes in search of another. I was afraid that the youngsters might be weary of the puppetry by this point, but, surprisingly, their attention didn't flag at all. And, of course, the kids were really tickled to seewhen that the little firefly was totally confused, first mistaking a light bulb, then a candle. . . a flashlight . . .a lantern. . . .and even a dog and owl's eyes for a bonafide firefly. I don't want to spoil the ending for you. But, happily, the firefly is a persistent searcher, and gradually learns what's what, and what's not, in the natural world,
Of course, the capstone to the show is the retelling of the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in which the iconic character crawls across the stage in puppet form. Some older kids chimed in as the story was being narrated by Kayla Prestel and the younger ones simply looked on in wide-eyed wonder as the caterpillar morphed into a magnificent butterfly.
A word of advice: Don't rush out of the theater when the performance ends. Several puppet characters return to the stage so that youngsters can be photographed with a favorite — a wonderful keep-sake for any preschooler's very first theater experience.