Friday marked opening night of Festival 56′s 2022 season. It was great being back in the Grace Theater after last year’s brief hiatus of being outdoors at the Bureau County Metro Center due to COVID restrictions.
This season, regarded as the season of ‘mischief and merriment,’ opened on a joyous note with a performance geared toward young audiences, but you certainly don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this show.
Elephant & Piggie’s “We are in a Play!” is a delightful musical based on the beloved Elephant & Piggie early reader books by Mo Willems.
The musical, written by Mo Willems, was reconstructed from six books: “We are in a Book,” “I am Invited to a Party,” “Elephants Cannot Dance,” “I love My New Toy,” “Should I Share My Ice Cream?” and “I am Going.”
In her debut show as director, Alegra Batara playfully brings the storybook characters to life. Gerald, portrayed by Philip Jesse Robinson, brings humor (the size of an elephant) to the show. Piggie, portrayed by Lois Ellise, brings a wholesome attitude that will tickle you pink. The performance also includes three Squirrelles played by Emma Massey, Florence Glavin and Jennifer Sanchez. The Squirrelles are a lively and comical bunch, offering up a supportive cast that sings and dances while channeling a 60s pop group with their tunics, tights and tall Go-go boots.
The theme of this show is centered on the friendship between Gerald and Piggie as they make play. The characters model what it looks and sounds like to be a good friend. Using expressions and body language, the actors make it easy for younger audiences to infer what the characters are feeling, and expand their vocabulary to include words like disappointed, embarrassed, frustrated, excited, anxious, nervous and remorseful.
At the last minute, my husband and I decided to take our two oldest daughters (ages 4 and 6) to opening night. It was their first theater experience, so you can only imagine how nervous we were hoping they remained quiet and in their seats. I figured this was the best opportunity to test their love of theater. My girls are proof that the performance was incredibly engaging. Their eyes were as big as saucers during the first song and dance scene. They were delighted at the singing and were totally engrossed in the Elephant and Piggie characters as they snacked on a Flour House monster cookie dad bought them at the concession stand before the show.
Towards the end, they got a little “squirrellier” than the Squirrelles, but that’s when the show became interactive with the audience encouraging laughter, yelling and waving of our arms. This really got the girls going and had us cracking up. Best of all, they were over the moon at getting to take home an Elephant & Piggie book. The books are being gifted to all children who attend the show. It’s the Princeton Theater Group’s way of promoting literacy and book ownership.
I encourage audiences of all ages to go and see this show. It is a shorter running time with no intermission, which is perfect for children. There are also matinee opportunities for families worried about late shows running into bedtimes.
This show is certainly a work of art in the land of Theatre for Young Audiences. The set is simple, which mimics the simple illustrations one finds in the Elephant & Piggie storybooks.
There’s neat technical features in the show where we watch an ice cream cone slowly melt as Gerald contemplates whether he should share his ice cream with Piggie or not. Also, there’s a unique scene where Gerald throws Piggie’s new toy way high, high in the sky where we watch it disappear and slowly fall back to earth in show motion. My girls are still trying to make sense of that stage magic.
There are four more chances to see Elephant & Piggie’s “We are in a Play” at the Grace Theater in Princeton. Shows are 7:30 p.m. June 28, 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30. Tickets can be purchased ahead of show times by calling the box office at 815-879-5656 or visiting www.festival56.com.