‘Peter and the Wolf’ at The Puppet Co. by Julia L. Exline

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The Puppet Company Playhouse presents Sergei Prokofiev’s musical adventure, Peter and the Wolf, a classic Russian composition. This story has been told many different ways throughout the years, with every medium having one binding factor – music. Looking for this answer, performer and puppeteer Christopher Piper asked the young audience, “If you’re going to tell the story of Peter and the Wolf, what do you need?” When one child shouted out, “Puppets!” Piper responded with, “I like your attitude.”

Christopher Piper (Center) and Peter and the Wolf. Phot ocourtesy of The Puppet Co.

Christopher Piper (Center) and Peter and the Wolf. Photo courtesy of The Puppet Co.

A set by Allan Stevens shows a raised platform, on which stands the interior of a humble cottage, with a high-backed wooden chair in one corner, and a modest fireplace in the other. The set pieces are turned to show a leafy meadow, and turned again to reveal a wolf cave, while lighting by Dan Brooks uses shadows to create the illusion of a forest. Performer and Puppet Designer Christopher Piper stands behind this platform, on which he attends to several marionettes at once, each with a distinct voice and personality. Piper is extraordinarily skilled at performing multiple characters in a solo act, lending each one a specific voice and unique mannerisms. This wide range is very impressive, and it makes him a joy to watch.

Before the show begins, Piper explains to the children how each character is revealed through his/her own instrumental score. For instance, a playful flute is used for a bird, while the brassy intimidation of the French horn signals the wolf. The slow, building baritone of the bassoon is perfect for the old grandfather, while plucky string instruments are a great match for the young, lively Peter. Instrumental melodies play a huge role in individualizing these characters, which I found very interesting.

The story begins with Peter asking his grandfather if he can go wolf hunting, as an ominous yowling sounds in the distance. His grandfather insists that Peter is still too young for the dangerous mission, but Peter is determined to show that he is mature and courageous enough, and sets a trap in the meadow anyway. While waiting for his prey, Peter visits with his friends, Boris the Cat and Jaja the Bird, who have their own (humorous) difficulties while hunting. When Peter’s trap and catches nothing but Peter himself, he decides to go looking for the wolf’s lair. His friend Natasha, a duck (accompanied by the bold oboe) decides to go help him, but she finds the wolf first, and lands herself in a bit of trouble. Can Peter save his friend from the wolf’s clutches? Will he be able to capture the wolf himself, or was his grandfather right…so is he not ready for such a task?

I always have such a fun time when I visit The Puppet Co., and today was no different. With a great score and playful, fun marionettes, Peter and the Wolf is a hit with both children and their parents. This was made even clearer when, upon leaving, I spotted Piper being nearly tackled by excited children, eager to pose with him and his puppet while their parents take pictures.

Unfortunately, the government shutdown took a sizable chunk of The Puppet Co.’s scheduled performances, as Glen Echo Park was closed, but there is still time to catch up!

For a fun family afternoon out, I highly recommend taking in a showing of Peter and the Wolf!

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Peter and the Wolf plays through November 22, 2013 at The Puppet Company—Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, MD. To purchase tickets, call (301) 634-5380 or order them online.

Running time is 40 minutes, without an intermission

Rating: 5 Stars

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