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SCT's giddy "Wolf" leaves 'em howling
Seattle Times theater critic
In 1936, Sergei Prokofiev gave the tots of the world an enduring gift.
For a children's theater company in Moscow, the famed Russian composer quickly (and happily) whipped up a musical folktale for young listeners.
Now the Seattle Children's Theatre has transformed Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" into a different kind of musical theater piece. Equipped with a new score by film and stage composer Hummie Mann and a comedic script by Seattle playwright Allison Gregory, the show really tickled the mini-mob of 4- to 6-year-olds I watched it with in a recent matinee.
The glaring question, of course, is, why mess with perfection?
The original "Peter and the Wolf" remains one of the most beguiling and familiar symphonic pieces in circulation. It is frequently used to introduce small children to orchestral music. There are several movie versions out and more than 50 audio recordings available — with narrators ranging from rocker David Bowie to Bill Clinton.
"Peter and the Wolf" plays Fridays-Sundays through March 18 at Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center; $15-$30 (206-441-3322 or www.sct.org).
Yet I'm pleased to report that SCT's slant on "Peter and the Wolf" (even if there isn't a burning rationale for it) is quite the charmer.
The show offers 75 exuberant minutes of colorful, humorous and tunesome story-theater, performed with flair by an adept live cast and a crew of shadow and rod puppets, and enriched with lots of cool sight gags tucked in by director Linda Hartzell.
The storyline of Gregory's nimble script sticks close to Prokofiev's original tale. Drawn from the composer's boyhood in Ukraine, it's about a boy, Peter (played by Daniel Charles Dennis), who defies the warnings of his grandpa (Hans Altwies) and bands together with a bird (Lisa Estridge), a duck (Peter A. Jacobs) and a cat (Liz McCarthy) to hunt down and capture a local wolf (also Altwies).
A hallmark of the Prokofiev score is that each of these characters is represented by a different kind of musical instrument: strings for Peter, horns for the wolf, etc.
That is not quite so obvious in the sparkling chamber music supplied by Mann (whose many credits include the score of the Mel Brooks flick "Robin Hood: Men in Tights").
Mann refashions Prokofiev's best-known melodies for a live four-musician combo led by Jacob Winkler. And he also points to Carl Stalling's music for 1940s Warner Brothers cartoons as another inspiration.
A little jazzy here, a little tango-y there, the songs and backup tunes he devises are bouncy blendings of oboe, flute, piano and percussion (with a touch of accordion).
And the music is not only refreshingly unamplified but also lilting and sweet, and mated with enjoyably goofy lyrics (co-written by Gregory and Mann) about "beady wolf eyes" and such.
For a show aimed at the kindergarten set, about a scary carnivore who'd much rather lunch on a child than a stalk of celery, this "Peter and the Wolf" neatly avoids being scary or gross.
The bright togs designed by Deborah Trout and Jennifer Lupton's folkloric sets instill an upbeat tone. So do the slew of "Muppets"-esque wisecracks, the zippy dances (choreographed by Gregory) and the fact that, as Altwies plays him, the wolf isn't so big and bad after all.
Actually, this wolfie is a fangless song-and-dance guy in a red top hat. And if Estridge's flighty bird and McCarthy's arch pussycat are a little wary of him, they kind of like him, too.
There's some talk and singing about wolfish appetites, but the gobbling of one character is dispatched comically. And once the wolf gets caught, he isn't killed or let loose in the Rockies, but paraded by Peter and company right over to the local zoo.
Never has a creature of the wild seemed so happy about winding up in captivity.
And why not? He's surrounded by singing and dancing, and an audience of clapping children who are rooting for him, too.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company