What do a blue horse, an egg-carrying seahorse, a lonely firefly, and a hungry caterpillar have in common? They are all characters created by beloved children’s author Eric Carle. These characters and others are brought to life through innovative storytelling and puppetry in Jonathan Rockefeller’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show. Of more than 70 books that Carle has written, Rockefeller's production draws on four: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mister Seahorse, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Although Carle’s books are recommended for children aged 10 and younger, this show has a wider appeal. When you get a reaction from audience members between the ages of 2 and 82, you know that you are doing something right. Everyone from all different backgrounds can relate to the deeper meaning in these four stories—expressing your true creative self no matter how wild and quirky your imagination might be, and the importance of a supportive loving family. The production also explores how a deep hunger for change can lead one to transform into the most beautiful butterfly.
Rockefeller and Eric Wright of the Puppet Kitchen have done a superb job engineering puppets and story to convey the artistry behind Carle’s storytelling. The Puppet Kitchen has replicated Carle’s unique illustrations down to his use of color, distinct lines, and shapes, and the use of tissue paper through puppetry. Specifically, the details of how each creature moves and looks are spectacular: some of the effects that were lifelike included the angelfish, the way the fireflies light up, and how the caterpillar hatches from its egg.
The cast (Kayla Prestel, Weston Long, Ariel Lauryn, and Jake Bazel) has worked hard to get the characters to step off the page. They have forged living, breathing creatures by manipulating the puppets in a realistic way and paying attention to each animal, insect, and human characterization: for example, the way the black bear raises its head to sniff the air or wiggle its bum, how Mister Seahorse twists and glides through the water, the way the pink rabbit hops, and how the caterpillar inches along. Long must also be praised for his vocal skills in giving each character an individual identity.
The puppets aren’t the only thing that makes this show great. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show has both illusion and spectacle. With simple sleight-of-hand, lighting, and the old bait-and-switch routine, this show finds seemingly magical effects to produce wonder and awe. Paintings appear without real paint, confetti and light combine to create fireworks that burst into the audience, and a drum light becomes a floating moon. In addition, the venue, a converted fire station with a highly raised stage, has good sight lines for every height of person.
If you have children or if you a child at heart, you're likely to find this show worth braving the cold for. It's a great indoor attraction to escape your cabin-fever blues.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is playing through March 27 at the 47th Street Theater, 304 W. 47th St. Tickets are $49.50-$69.50 and may be purchased by visiting ticketcentral.com or by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit hungrycaterpillarshow.com.