Much to the delight of young (and young-at-heart) audiences, Stage 3 at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row has been transformed into the Hundred Acre Wood and that lovable bear Winnie the Pooh has arrived with his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Owl, and Tigger, too, for an irresistible new musical adventure created by playwright and director Jonathan Rockefeller and presented by Rockefeller Productions in association with Disney Theatrical Productions.
First introduced by English author A.A. Milne in his original 1926 children’s books illustrated by E.H. Shephard (which have sold over 50 million copies worldwide), the beloved Pooh stories were later developed for the stage and screen by Disney, after acquiring the rights in 1961. The current adaptation – featuring the music of the Oscar- and Grammy-winning Sherman Brothers (who worked directly with Walt Disney on the first two Pooh featurettes), along with additional songs by Milne and original music and orchestrations by Nate Edmondson – is told through the medium of larger-than-life-sized puppetry, designed and constructed by artists and specialists at Rockefeller Productions (the talented team behind the popular critically-acclaimed Paddington Gets in a Jam and The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show), with Matthew Lish serving as lead puppet builder.
In this latest escapade, the eponymous ursid has run out of honey, usually brought to him by the boy Christopher Robin, who is away at a place called “school.” So what’s a Pooh-Bear to do? He’ll have to find it for himself, with the aid of the other anthropomorphic talking animals in the woods. They search for the sweet treat for what seems like a year, through seasons of amusing mishaps that teach them (and the kids attentively watching them) the importance of friendship and working together.
The cuddly puppets are brought to life by a skilled cast of six puppeteers/actors, with Jake Bazel as the titular bear, Chris Palmieri as Tigger, Kirsty Moon as Kanga, and, in multiple roles, Emmanuel Elpenord as Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl, and Kristina Dizon as Piglet and Roo. Not only do they believably manipulate their adorable charges (with the bigger ones attached to parts of their bodies for fully connected movement), they also provide the distinctive voices and personalities of the different characters, showing the diversity of the natural world, with everyone doing their best to help one another and to get along. Even the real human Christopher Robin (not a puppet), played by Max Lamberg at the performance I attended, makes it clear that he doesn’t need a gift in exchange for the “hunny” he brings, because he already has everything he needs in his dear friend Pooh.
An enchanting set by David Goldstein transports viewers into the magical world of Hundred Acre, with its familiar bridge and honey tree, and pop-up flowers that bloom in springtime and summer. Beautiful colorful lighting by Jamie Roderick also changes with the seasons, as the autumn leaves and winter snow fall gently down upon the audience. And the puppeteers’ costumes by Lindsay McWilliams, in a cool color palette, are designed to blend with the background and to coordinate with the animals, not to distract from them.
Winnie the Pooh is a thoroughly charming show that will keep children and adults alike happily enthralled for every moment of the hour-long performance. It’s a perfect family-friendly event for the holidays, or anytime, with an uplifting moral that ‘bears’ repeating: be friendly and helpful, work together and get along.
Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes, without intermission.
Winnie the Pooh plays through Sunday, January 30, 2022, at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. For tickets, go online. Prices range from $41.50-191.50 (premium package includes a limited edition Winnie the Pooh show tote bag; VIP package includes commemorative program book, limited edition Winnie The Pooh show tote bag, VIP lanyard, exclusive plush, and post-show photo op with the cast of puppets). All children over 12 months require their own ticket; for children under 12 months, there is a lap seat fee of $10, which can be purchased at the box office before entering the theater.
To keep everyone safe, masks must be worn by all audience members aged 2 and older, and approved vaccinations are required for ages 12 and above; for those under 12, free on-site COVID-19 testing is available directly outside the building.