Peter and the Wolf

SCT rang in the New Year with the world premiere of Peter and the Wolf, adapted by local playwright Allison Gregory from the classic story by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. This play will celebrate character and music using four live musicians, creative storytelling, puppetry, humor and movement.

Gregory’s innovative take on this timeless tale features music by two-time Emmy Award-winner Hummie Mann. In his first stage production for children, Mann took the themes from Peter and the Wolf and adapted them to contemporary musical theatre songs. Prokofiev’s melodies find their way into a tango, waltz, Charleston, two-step shuffle and even cartoon music evocative of Carl Stalling, the mastermind behind the Warner Brothers’ cartoons of the 1940s.

“The delightfully creative Allison Gregory, one of the team who brought us our beloved Go, Dog. Go!, has expanded the simple storyline envisioned by Prokofiev,” said SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell, who is also directing the play. “In addition to Allison’s clever work with the characters and story, composer Hummie Mann has used Prokofiev’s original score as a platform for an evocative and exuberant theatrical experience that will propel us into the exciting world of the imagination.”

Commissioned in 1936 by the Moscow Central Children’s Theater, Peter and the Wolf was created to introduce children to the instruments of an orchestra and is now loved by generations of people all over the world. SCT’s production takes Prokofiev’s concept a step further: it is an active introduction to theatre using Buster Keaton-style clowning and movement. The play still follows the adventures of Peter, trying to save his animal friends from a hungry wolf, but Gregory’s adaptation creatively delves into each character with hilarity and gusto.

For SCT, Gregory choreographed and co-wrote Go, Dog. Go! with husband Steven Dietz, as well as choreographing Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Other plays include Forcing Hyacinths (Julie Harris Playwriting Award); Fall Off Night (commissioned by South Coast Repertory Theatre), which had a critically acclaimed run in Los Angeles; and Point Deception (commissioned by ACT in Seattle). Her play Even Steven Goes to War was selected for the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices series and was seen at Arizona’s Childsplay and at Seattle Public Theatre.

Hummie Mann won Emmy Awards for his score to Language of the Heart, which was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, and for arranging Billy Crystal’s opening number for the 1992 Academy Awards telecast. He has worked with some of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors and composed the scores for a wide variety of television projects and features, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Thomas and the Magic Railroad. His theatre work includes work for West End Playhouse, Los Angeles Actor’s Theatre, Long Beach Civic Light Opera, and several other Southern California theatres and tours.

The sets and costumes for Peter and the Wolf, designed by Jennifer Lupton and Deborah Trout, respectively, are inspired by Russian and Ukrainian folk art and culture.

The age-old struggle between man and animal, hunter and wolf, is alive and well. Behind Peter’s Grandfather’s house is a lush meadow with a sparkling pond, overlooked by a sturdy tree and high stone wall. Grandfather warns Peter, even though the meadow is tempting, he mustn’t go out there for a wolf is loose and prowling in the forest. Peter pays Grandfather no heed and goes out in the meadow as soon as Grandfather turns his back.

The duck, who lives in the yard, is grateful to Peter for opening the gate so that he may go swim in the pond. Grandfather, seeing Peter out in the meadow, quickly grabs the boy and hauls him back behind the stone wall, closing the gate. Meanwhile, a bird flies down to investigate the duck—and while the two foul-temperedly argue over the merits of flying versus swimming, a cat creeps closer and closer to the bird. Not wanting his small, feathered friend to become lunch for the cat, Peter yells to warn the bird to fly away into the tree.

Distracted by the cat circling the tree, none of them notice the wolf slink up to the pond. Once aware of the danger, the cat leaps to safety in the branches alongside the bird. The duck becomes so discombobulated that he doesn’t realize how close the wolf has gotten and is quickly swallowed whole. Peter takes action—he runs off and finds some rope, climbs out on the tree beside the bird and tells his little friend of his plan. Before he can get to the wolf, the hunters arrive, ready to shoot. They all chase through the forest and across the meadow.

Finally, with the reluctant help of the bird and cat, the wolf hides from the hunters. Peter, still sensing the danger the wolf presents, enlists the help of the bird to distract the still-hungry animal while Peter manages to catch and tie him to the tree. The hunters return for their prey, but Peter scolds them and enlists their aid in getting the wolf to the nearby zoo. All in a line they march along: Peter, the wolf, the hunters, the cat, and Grandfather (so proud), with the bird chirping excitedly overhead.

The cast for Peter and the Wolf includes Hans Altwies as Wolf/Grandfather, Daniel Charles Dennis as Peter, Lisa Estridge as Bird, Peter A. Jacobs as Duck/Hunter, and Liz McCarthy as Cat. Anthony Curry and Kirsten Hopkins are the understudies.

The production features choreography by Allison Gregory, musical direction by Jacob Winkler, set design by Jennifer Lupton, costume design by Deborah Trout, light design by Andrew Duff, sound design by Chris R. Walker, and puppet design by Douglas N. Paasch.

By Misha Berson

The Seattle Times, January 20, 2006

In 1936, Sergei Prokofiev gave the tots of the world an enduring gift.

For a children's theater company in Moscow, the famed Russian composer quickly (and happily) whipped up a musical folktale for young listeners.

Now the Seattle Children's Theatre has transformed Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" into a different kind of musical theater piece. Equipped with a new score by film and stage composer Hummie Mann and a comedic script by Seattle playwright Allison Gregory, the show really tickled the mini-mob of 4- to 6-year-olds I watched it with in a recent matinee.

The glaring question, of course, is, why mess with perfection?

The original "Peter and the Wolf" remains one of the most beguiling and familiar symphonic pieces in circulation. It is frequently used to introduce small children to orchestral music. There are several movie versions out and more than 50 audio recordings available — with narrators ranging from rocker David Bowie to Bill Clinton.

Yet I'm pleased to report that SCT's slant on "Peter and the Wolf" (even if there isn't a burning rationale for it) is quite the charmer.

The show offers 75 exuberant minutes of colorful, humorous and tunesome story-theater, performed with flair by an adept live cast and a crew of shadow and rod puppets, and enriched with lots of cool sight gags tucked in by director Linda Hartzell.

The storyline of Gregory's nimble script sticks close to Prokofiev's original tale. Drawn from the composer's boyhood in Ukraine, it's about a boy, Peter (played by Daniel Charles Dennis), who defies the warnings of his grandpa (Hans Altwies) and bands together with a bird (Lisa Estridge), a duck (Peter A. Jacobs) and a cat (Liz McCarthy) to hunt down and capture a local wolf (also Altwies).

A hallmark of the Prokofiev score is that each of these characters is represented by a different kind of musical instrument: strings for Peter, horns for the wolf, etc.

That is not quite so obvious in the sparkling chamber music supplied by Mann (whose many credits include the score of the Mel Brooks flick "Robin Hood: Men in Tights").

Mann refashions Prokofiev's best-known melodies for a live four-musician combo led by Jacob Winkler. And he also points to Carl Stalling's music for 1940s Warner Brothers cartoons as another inspiration.

A little jazzy here, a little tango-y there, the songs and backup tunes he devises are bouncy blendings of oboe, flute, piano and percussion (with a touch of accordion).

And the music is not only refreshingly unamplified but also lilting and sweet, and mated with enjoyably goofy lyrics (co-written by Gregory and Mann) about "beady wolf eyes" and such.

For a show aimed at the kindergarten set, about a scary carnivore who'd much rather lunch on a child than a stalk of celery, this "Peter and the Wolf" neatly avoids being scary or gross.

The bright togs designed by Deborah Trout and Jennifer Lupton's folkloric sets instill an upbeat tone. So do the slew of "Muppets"-esque wisecracks, the zippy dances (choreographed by Gregory) and the fact that, as Altwies plays him, the wolf isn't so big and bad after all.

Actually, this wolfie is a fangless song-and-dance guy in a red top hat. And if Estridge's flighty bird and McCarthy's arch pussycat are a little wary of him, they kind of like him, too.

There's some talk and singing about wolfish appetites, but the gobbling of one character is dispatched comically. And once the wolf gets caught, he isn't killed or let loose in the Rockies, but paraded by Peter and company right over to the local zoo.

Never has a creature of the wild seemed so happy about winding up in captivity.

And why not? He's surrounded by singing and dancing, and an audience of clapping children who are rooting for him, too.

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Peter And The Wolf

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