'Elephant & Piggie's "We Are In A Play!"' from SCT reminds us of the magic of children's theater
Photo courtesy of Seattle Children's Theatre
The beloved characters of Piggie and Gerald come to life on stage. If there’s such a thing as an instant classic, this is it.
Seattle Children’s Theatre has created a gem of a show and successfully navigated the tricky waters of converting cartoon animals into live theatre with Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!”.
SCT made a brave choice to not put actors into pig and elephant costumes. Instead, the actors depend on their mannerisms, speech, and expressions to covey their Piggie-ness and Gerald-ness; Within a few minutes of taking the stage, the audience was completely won over by their characterization. They sound like Piggie and Gerald. They move like Piggie and Gerald. Cassi Q. Kohl and Jon Lutyens are Piggie and Gerald.
If Piggie and Gerald were to wear clothes, I’m pretty sure they would wear the same things that costume designer Nanette Acosta chose for the actors. Gerald is in serious gray attire, outfitted in a sweater vest and coat. Piggie is in playful pink from head to toe, completed with curly pigtails. Despite their human forms, kids can easily identify them as the beloved storybook characters they’re so familiar with.
Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” captures all the fun and humor of the books. The script and lyrics were written by the creator of the characters, Mo Willems. With a white grand piano in the middle of the stage, the music was a happy surprise. My daughter said, “they should have called it, 'We Are in a Musical.'” The songs were a natural extension of the story and took the humor to another level.
In my daughter’s favorite song, Gerald simply sang the word “why” over and over again, becoming more and more desperate in his pleas. While Gerald surprised us by jumping in to play the piano on one song, Piggie surprised us with her voice. The play also included the Squirrelles who performed as backup singers and dancers. My daughter loved their hair and costuming: The giant coiffures and dresses with godets alluded perfectly to the natural body shape of a squirrel.
The play itself covers parts of several books with an extra section at the end wherein Piggie and Gerald realize that they're in a play, a moment reminiscent of the story where they discover that they're in a book. However, the play's benefit of potential audience interaction means that the characters make the most of this meta moment. From clapping to echo singing to arm-waving, the audience is pulled into the action of the play. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed a room full of smiling, engaged families with shining faces, full of delight. It was children’s theater at its best.
If you were uncertain how to feel about a live-action version of Piggie and Gerald, you're not alone. The beautiful simplicity of the books, with an almost total lack of backgrounds and objects other than Piggie and Gerald, might seem too simple and empty on stage. However, the play's entire stage is a mottled white and gray with tiny tints of other colors that become a magical playground for the show’s lighting designer Andrew D. Smith. Props are kept to a minimum, but pack a punch, just as they do in the book.
The success of the books, I believe, is the unifying thread of Piggie and Gerald’s friendship. Taking the story to the stage breathes even more life into their friendship.
Of all the lessons that Piggie and Gerald teach their readers and audiences, how to be a good friend is the most recurrent and most important. The show may be lacking visual tails and trunks, but it doesn’t lack heart.
Tickets start at $22; Oct. 8 – Nov. 29, Thurs. & Fri. at 7 pm, Sat. at 2 pm & 5:30 pm, Sun. at 11 am and 2:30 pm.
201 Thomas St, Seattle, 98109
Kelly Rogers Flynt is a freelance writer based out of Lake Forest Park and the mother of two budding thespians.