If you have Mo Willems fans in your house, make sure to visit Columbia Children’s Theatre for a marvelous production of his Elephant and Piggie’s We Are In a Play!, with book and lyrics by Willems and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. And, really, even if you’re not already a devotee of Willems’ beloved children’s books, this musical will be an excellent introduction to the funny, real, heart-warming world of Willems. Director Jerry Stevenson and his talented team work their magic once again; the gratifying level of artistry that pervades CCT productions continues to reward audiences of every age.
Just as in Willems’ series of books, anxious Elephant and carefree Piggie are best friends who zestfully embrace diverse life experiences, including attending a party, learning how to dance, playing the trumpet, and sharing ice cream. Yet even best friends encounter bumps along the road, such as accidentally breaking a friend’s new toy. The meta-theatrical realizations of the song “We Are in A Play” provide hilarious commentary on the experience of live performance, while upbeat numbers like “Ice Cream Hero” enliven the show.
As mother to two proud Mo Willems enthusiasts, I was eager to accompany my young family to the CCT performance. (Full disclaimer: my kids are such hardcore Willems fans that they wore Elephant and Piggie costumes for Halloween last year; attending this production was serious business for our crew!) We all loved this show when we saw it at the children’s theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina last fall, and I daresay our family adored Elephant and Piggie even more at our hometown CCT. In particular, the believable comradery of the title characters in this production grounds the humorous action in a real relationship that resonates for kids and their families. My eight-year-old daughter observed that attending the CCT show felt like “going inside an Elephant and Piggie book!”
Paul Lindley II delivers an exquisite performance in the tour de force role of Gerald, the big-hearted, clever, endearingly worried elephant. Georgie Harrington shines as the perfect partner in friendship and fun through her heartfelt portrayal of insouciant and expressive Piggie. The pair demonstrates impressive vocal ability as well as enjoyable physical comedy, creating engaging interpretations of Willems’ cherished characters. Lindley and Harrington find the delicate balance of bittersweet poignancy in their characters’ understanding of the ephemeral nature of theatre, while affirming comfort in each other through a lovely rendition of “We’ll Be Friends.” As the sassy Squirrelles, Brandi Smith, Toni Moore, and Carol Beis provide winning commentary and an inviting “backup singer” presence, while Kaitlyn Fuller offers appealing performances as the droll Dog and ice cream salesman Penguin. (At alternate performances, Taylor Diveley plays Gerald; Diveley and Crystal Aldamuy play Dog and Penguin.)
Clever costuming choices by the brilliant Donna Harvey evoke aspects of the animal characters with color and texture, while suggesting vibrant personality traits through the style of clothing. Callbacks to other favorites in the Willems canon are another highlight; my family is somewhat obsessed with that fabulous “Pigeon” cane. The familiar color palette of the book series emerges in the whimsical and highly functional set design by Jim Litzinger and Harvey. Lindley provides strong music direction, while Aldamuy and Stevenson create charming choreography. The gifted professionals at CCT are at the top of their game with this stellar production.
At the show’s conclusion, my kindergarten son declared, “Wow! That was pretty awesome, right? Elephant and Piggie stick together!” Audience members of all ages are sure to agree after enjoying the irrepressible delights of Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play! at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Performances will continue on Friday, February 26 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, February 27 at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, February 28 at 3:00 pm. Ticket pricing includes $10 for adults and children ages 3 and up, $8 for active duty military and seniors, and $5 for Saturday night performances. Advance reservations are encouraged; visit ww.columbiachildrenstheatre.com or call 803-691-4548 for more information.