REVIEW: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Emerald City)

  
  

Having fun while learning the importance of responsibility

  
  

From left to right: Daiva Bhandari as Duckling, Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver, and James Zoccoli as Pigeon.

  
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
  
From the books by Mo Willems
Adapted by
Ernie Nolan 
Directed by
Jacqueline Stone
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
thru April 10  |  tickets: $13-$16   |  more info

To be clear, I am way past the age of three and above which is the recommended age for Emerald City Theatre’s Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!. However, there are always lessons to be learned about sharing, responsibility, and respect no matter one’s age. Ernie Nolan adapts this production from the popular ‘Pigeon’ books by Mo Willems. They include: “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog”, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late”, “Pigeon Wants a Puppy”, as well as “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!”

It is a colorful and stimulating hour or so of entertainment for children. The set is a beautiful rendering of a city park that looks just like a children’s book. The music consists of fun lyrics set to familiar tunes like the “Can-Can” and Bizet’s Carmen.

"Can I PLEASE drive the Bus?" From left to right: Daiva Bhandari as Duckling, James Zoccoli as Pigeon, and Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver.Bret Beaudry plays the role of Bus Driver. His character is the moral consciousness and adult figure in the play. Beaudry lights up in this role. He is adept at playing for laughs and not condescending to the kids. Beaudry has a wonderful energy, especially in the game show segment when he dons a sparkly jacket and obnoxious bow tie.

Bus Driver is a well-drawn caricature and plays well off of the character of Duckling, played by Daiva Bhandari. Duckling is anthropomorphized as a human/animal hybrid but quite believable. Ms. Bhandari is delightful in a hyper-real yellow bob and tutu. Her character represents the good kid and great example.

It’s fun and educational to see Duckling win the game show by being prepared and responsible. The lesson was given without the hammer fist of good kid vs. bad kid.

James Anthony Zoccoli plays the role of Pigeon, and his character is the classic kid with ADHD. Pigeon is all over the place, wanting his way and pouting about never getting his way (insert wah-wah music here). Zoccoli is costumed in everyday baggy khakis, hoodie, and a baseball cap. I’m not sure why Pigeon wasn’t more outrageously attired or given more colorful accessories. Might it be that the costumer was making a statement about how common pigeons are in an urban setting-therefore the hip-hop attire?  It felt like Pigeon didn’t have some class privileges and was excluded. Whatever the reason, I found Pigeon more difficult to relate to from my inner child’s vision. Mr. Zoccoli is funny and good at relating the need for better behavior to kids but didn’t embody the same childlike zany energy coming from him. It was as if an adult had been dropped into the scene that had carte blanche to act like a kid.

Jacqueline Stone is the director for Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!. She does a good job of matching the pace with a child’s attention span. The different vignettes are reminiscent of a day in Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse: the scene of the giant puppy is a funny lesson in being careful what you ask for, as surely you will get it; the hot dog story was a great lesson in sharing. A general motif is created whereby the pigeon is basically manipulated or tricked into doing the right thing. I would have liked to see Pigeon happy about a lesson learned versus being miffed.

James Zoccoli as Pigeon is not so sure he wants a puppy anymore.

In paying attention to the kid’s reactions in the audience, it’s obvious that kids are very observant; it’s not easy to put something over on them. Kids will call you out on obvious stuff like it’s Duckling under the giant puppy head. It’s odd – kids will suspend reality for a human duck hybrid, but then spot the barely-visible bright yellow costume in a dual role as puppy.

Keep in mind that some children will be afraid having story books come to life. One little girl behind me was freaked out for most of the first half hour. She was crying to get out of there and I understood. I was the kid who had nightmares about Garfield Goose taking me away in a shopping cart. You never really know what is in a child’s mind.

Emerald City always has fun activities and props for the kids. Duckling was on hand before the show to put ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions (sticker dots) on paper hot dogs. The characters are available for pictures and autographs after the show as well. I recommend this show for kids 3 and up who have read the “Pigeon” series. It’s a fun and smart way to introduce theater to very young children. (It was also a great way to resolve my Garfield Goose issues!)

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! runs through April 10th, 2011 at the Apollo Theater located at 2540 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Go to emeraldcitytheatre.com for more information on Emerald City and the wonderful programs for early childhood education through theatre. The playbill has some fun stuff in it for parents and children to share as well.

From left to right: Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver, James Zoccoli as Pigeon, and Daiva Bhandari as Duckling.

Extra Credit

  
  

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Emerald City Theatre)

     
     

Learning to love the things you’ve had all along

     
     

Wizard of Oz - Emerald City Theatre

   
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
The Wizard of Oz
   
Written by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by John Kane
Music/Lyrics by
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
Through Jan 2  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love children’s theater because the audience’s limited attention span forces wild, fearless performances from the actors as they try to hold the concentration of both children and parents. Emerald City Theatre is one of the city’s premier children’s theater companies, and their holiday production of The Wizard of Oz incorporates audience interaction and puppetry to create a visually exciting production that understands the actor/child dynamic. The actors give unbridled performances that keep the momentum moving briskly, and while they might not be the strongest in term of technique, they make up for it by having so much fun in their characters.

Molly Tower as Glinda the Good Witch - Emerald City TheatreEmerald City’s production High School Musical­-izes Arlen and Harburg’s score with a rhythm section and guitars, but the songs never lose their classic appeal. Karle’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a rousing number that captures Dorothy’s desire to find a world outside the dreariness of the Kansas countryside, and the actress’s effortless belt gets the show off to a great start. In Oz, Dorothy is greeted by Glinda’s (a hilariously irreverent Molly Tower) angelic soprano, accompanied by the denizens of Munchkinland.

As she makes her way to the Emerald City, Dorothy encounters new faces, including Scarecrow (Bret Beaudry), who serves as a major source of physical comedy throughout the show. Tinman (James Nedrud) is cleverly portrayed as an Elvis-like crooner and carries a guitar for an axe, appropriate for the Million Dollar Quartet housing Apollo Theater, and Nedrud has a smooth vocal quality that is perfect for the character. The only one of Dorothy’s new friends that struggles is Lion (Shea Coffman), and the difficulty of the character’s music isn’t helped by the ornaments Coffman adds to almost every sustained note.

Using puppets for the munchkins is hilarious and efficient, and the low-budget shortcuts that Emerald City takes contribute to much of the show’s charm. Kevin Beltz’s economical set unfolds Dorothy’s house to reveal walls with turning panels to signify location, all located in the walls of Dorothy’s home that unfolds during the storm. It’s a great effect that also saves a lot of money on scenery. Despite not being the most technically astounding or polished production, the show’s simplicity and dedicated ensemble make Dorothy’s journey through Oz easy for kids to enjoy while still entertaining for adults.

If I only had a heart by Emerald City Theatre Company Find Her! - The Wicked Witch by Emerald City Theatre Company
If I only had a brain! by Emerald City Theatre Company The Wicked Witch of the West by Emerald City Theatre Company When I am king of the forest by Emerald City Theatre Company

It is surprising how well Baum’s classic story works in a holiday setting, as the storm that whisks Dorothy away, in this production, occurs just before Christmas. Maybe it’s the combination of red and green that comes from ruby slippers – adorably reimagined as glistening ankle-boots – and the Emerald City. More likely, the connection comes from how well Baum taps into the holiday spirit of giving thanks, and taking pleasure in the company of people that will always be there for you. The important part of the holidays isn’t the presents you get, but learning to love the things you’ve had all along.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Off to see the Wizard

        
        

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