That sound you hear echoing through downtown Frederick is the sound of lots of little ones happily giggling their way through Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s (MET’s) joyful production of A.A. Milne’s classic “Winnie the Pooh,” directed by Bethanie Herman.The show is chock-full of the characters we’ve all grown to know and love, and combines a few of Milne’s more recognizable stories, into one sweet production perfect for children and parents alike.
It shows that this cast knows exactly who their audience is and how to give them an experience they won’t soon forget.
The impressive cast of four actors portray eight different roles in the story. Katie Rey Bogdan has taken on the role of the silly ol’ bear, Pooh. She is perfectly cast as the kind teddy bear, who’s only really worried about his next pot of honey. Dressed in a yellow sweater and knit cap with ears with Pooh-like mannerisms – such as a playful waddle while she walked – she was instantly recognizable to the young audience as Pooh. As Pooh’s best friend Piglet, as well as Owl and Roo, Lizzy Andrew is a director’s dream.
She slides in an out of her characters so quickly, that I have a hard time keeping up. Each of her characters is distinctive, and each has their own quirks, but all share her knack for physical comedy. Ms. Andrew is also adept at handling the children in the audience. When rhetorically asking what happened to her balloon, a little boy in the audience answered, “It popped!” Ms. Andrew weaved that into the story and the little boy answered a few more questions for her. It shows that this cast knows exactly who their audience is and how to give them an experience they won’t soon forget.
Playing Christopher Robin and Rabbit is Sean Byrne during Saturday performances. He also has quite a knack for comedy, though his is more wordy in contrast to Ms. Andrew’s physical comedy. He speaks about a mile a minute as Rabbit, which is pretty perfect for that particular character. About halfway through I realized he reminded me a lot of Jim Parsons. Mr. Byrne seems to share his dry wit, and ability to chatter incessantly while making it all sound endlessly fascinating.
Lastly, Christine Jacobs played Kanga and my personal favorite character, Eeyore. Ms. Jacobs perfectly captures his “woe is me” attitude while making him endearing at the same time. In direct contrast to Eeyore, her Kanga is kind and motherly and not grumpy in the least bit. All four actors play well off of each other, and all seem ok with the physical demands of the show. In other words, quick changes backstage to enter as a completely different character every few minutes seems quite easy for them.
And while these actors brought these characters to life successfully in a new way, it wouldn’t be “Winnie the Pooh” without the Hundred Acre Wood. Scenic Designer Cody Gilliam should be applauded for the set design. It is the very definition of doing a lot with very little. The trees are pillars wrapped in crumpled brown paper. The leaves consist of hundreds of pieces of green paper strategically placed. Pooh’s hole even contains at least a dozen honeypots full of what looks almost like honey. The set has that perfect feeling of being inside the storybook of “Winnie the Pooh” – pretty much exactly how you’d want the Hundred Acre Wood to look.
Costumes – designed by Julie Herber – are also fantastic. Before the show began, I wondered if the actors would come out in terrible Halloween costumes of these characters, but I should have known better. The sweaters, and overalls, and ears are subtle, but really sell the actors as Pooh and his friends. As soon as they arrive on stage, the children are able to recognize them as their friends from the stories.
As Children’s theatre goes, this production is so much better than it has to be. The actors and creatives have created something really special. They’re providing children with a beautiful story of friendship and fun while giving their parents a peek back into the Hundred Acre Wood they knew when they were young. In my opinion, MET’s production is the perfect way to bring families together and get little ones interested in the magic of theatre. Any show that can do those things, is pretty perfect in my book.
Running Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Perfect for young and old alike!
“Winnie the Pooh” runs through June 17, 2018, at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, Frederick MD, 21701. For tickets, call (301) 694 – 4744 or purchase online.