Well-loved story characters come to life on stage in Seattle Children’s Theatre’s presentation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favorites. In this enjoyable, 50-minute show, brightly colored puppets and scenery props appear to move by magic against a dark background.
Performers from Mermaid Theatre Company in tiny Windsor, Nova Scotia, drove across the continent to present their show using the technique known as blacklight puppetry. In this type of puppetry, puppets and scenery elements are illuminated by a blacklight while performers who manipulate them dress all in black and remain invisible.
The Hungry Caterpillar caters well to the age-2-to-8 crowd. Before the show began, the voice reminding us to turn off our cell phones also mentioned that young audience members might be tempted to join in the telling of a familiar story. I expected an admonition to keep quiet but was happily surprised to hear an invitation for kids to join in. “This is a no-shushing show,” the announcer said. (A request for silence might have been futile anyway.)
The first of three vignettes, based on Eric Carle’s book Little Cloud, uses a two-dimensional blacklight puppet of Little Cloud, plus hand-painted scene elements that resemble the distinctive artwork of author Carle. Puppets and scenery fly and dance across the dark backdrop. As lively music accompanies Little Cloud’s wanderings and changing shapes, a narrator tells his story. Both music and narration continue through the subsequent stories.
The second story, based on The Mixed-Up Chameleon, brought forth audible enthusiasm from children in the theater on opening night. This Carle story may have been more familiar to some than the first, or perhaps it was the endearingly cute, three-dimensional chameleon puppet gracing the stage. Like Little Cloud, the story unfolds faithfully following the book. Multiple chameleon puppets appear, each sporting a different color, and the long pink tongue zips out to catch the buzzing fly.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar story makes for the grand finale of the show and the crowd was full of adoring fans. The “headlining” character wiggles about in true-to-life caterpillar fashion and sassily kicks his fruit leftovers away after eating through them.
In the performance we saw, audience members occasionally caught glimpses of the performers’ hands manipulating the puppets. An elementary school-aged girl near the front excitedly whispered “I can see someone!”
Fortunately for the curious, the performers came onstage after the show and offered to answer any questions about how they handle the puppets. With the house lights up, we were able to see how two actors and a stage manager made puppets, painted paper and props seem to move on their own. This, in my opinion, sealed the deal to make this a terrific show, as kids and adults delighted in seeing how everything worked.
Jim Morrow of Mermaid Theatre adapted, directed and designed the show. Performers are John Allen MacLean and Emma Slip, with Shawn Sorenson serving as stage manager. The show is narrated by Gordon Pinsent, and Steven Naylor composed the music.
If you go . . .
Where: The Eve Alvord Theatre of Seattle Children’s Theatre
When: May 3-June 14
Tickets: $29-$36. Buy online at sct.org. Tickets are nearly sold out, so act quickly to see this charming show.