Millbrook is back!
After watching in dismay during the pandemic as the barn stage lights go down, we are delighted that the performance hall is back, offering its first live performance in over a year – a musical designed for young and old called “Elephant and Piggie’s We’re in a Play.”
The story is taken from a series of books by award-winning author and illustrator Mo Willems, who is capable, according to one reviewer, of creating books for young readers that reflect “Amazing emotional depth”. The play, whose screenplay and lyrics were written by Willems, takes us back to that early time in our lives when everything is new and untried. It’s a time when we can wear silly hats, pretend the mailman is a delivery dog, have a temper tantrum, find a red cape and do a heroes dance, and generally turn in the currents of life. and come out laughing. Gerald Elephant (who is more worried) and Piggie (who is more placid) are the “better” friends, and we watch their trust in the relationship being gently tested and they learn to accept each other’s whims and love. “the elephant (and the pig) in the room.”
The roles of Elephant and Piggie are played with just the right combination of 5-year-old’s right and wide-eyed innocence. J. Allen Glover, who plays Gerald, transports us to the heart of a little boy where – amid a savage mixture of anger, frustration, fantasy, muscle flexing and thoughtless bravado – we find a little person who is fascinated by self-discovery and her growing awareness of the bigger world. Aimee Hunsinger, who plays Piggie, beautifully expresses a child’s creative, sometimes tenderly awkward efforts to embody the idea that “everything is possible” and that, through empathy, difficulties can be overcome. It all happens with such a light touch that we can’t help but laugh even when things turn upside down and little people take a temporary fall.
The atmosphere of the show is supported from the start by the catchy musical score and by the back-up girl group called (in tribute to the Chantels and the Shirelles) the “Squirrels.” Nyah Charles, Kelly Long and Tara Wands lend their three-part harmony to what becomes a sort of fanciful Greek choir whose job is to lend moxia, in song, to events. Kudos to David Leidholdt, director and choreographer, and Kayla Shutters as production manager, for a delightful performance designed to appeal to the whole family. Kudos to Mo Ortbal as Music Director, Aaron White and Walter Pigford as Set Designers, Brooke Reese as Lighting Designer and VC Deener as Props Designer.
Theater tradition has it that a phantom light is turned on every night after the show ends and everyone has gone home. It’s a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the theater industry that, even during the pandemic, the ghost lights on stages around the world continued to burn. And so it was here in Millbrook: the phantom light that shone through all those dark months like a beacon of hope. It is in this spirit that the new season begins. As David Leidholdt says, in his role as artistic director,“We’re happy to be back, excited to be live and excited for the season ahead.”
How did the play unfold with the younger audience? The two children who were sitting with their mother in the row in front of me were jumping up and down in their seats, barely able to contain their excitement. When I asked them about their favorite parts, they said, “When he becomes a superhero” (his favorite) and “When the ice has melted” (hers). You will have to see the show and decide for yourself.
“Elephant and Piggie’s We’re in a Play” will take place one more weekend, on Saturday and Sunday June 26 and 27. Saturday’s performance is at 10 a.m. and Sunday morning begins at 2 p.m. Obtain tickets for the show by calling the Millbrook box office at 570 748-8083 or by going online at www.millbrookplayhouse.org. You will love this show!