Sunday, May 5, 2019

ASF Fellows: "Winnie-the-Pooh"

On their penultimate day on Saturday, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Fellows Company presented a delightful production of the A. A. Milne classic Winnie-the-Pooh in a musical adaptation (first seen at ASF about a decade ago) by Le Clanche du Rand, with music by Allan J. Friedman and lyrics by Milne, Kristin Sergel, and Ms. du Rand.

Milne's original 1926 stories are telegraphed into a 60-minute entertainment that is a treat for both the intended children's audiences and the adults who accompany them. -- With its coloring-book set by Charles Eddie Moncrief III and inventive costumes by Jeffrey Todhunter, it pleases the eye as it tells the tale of Christopher Robin [Dane McMichael] and his treasured companion Pooh [Tyshon Boone] as they engage in a number of adventures and misadventures with Rabbit [Katrina Clark], Eeyore [Chris Marth], Piglet [Sigrid Wise], Owl [Tony Pellegrino], Kanga [Eduardo Ruiz] and Roo [Toree Alexandre]. Take your pick on a favorite character; there's enough in each one to beguile anyone.

AUM faculty member Neil David Seibel directs this ensemble with keen attention to character, movement, inventive staging, and the thematic lessons that people of all ages can agree on. -- The action moves swiftly from moment to moment interspersed with songs mostly from the original text; accompanied by Mr. McMichael on the guitar, and occasionally half-spoken/half-sung, the simple tunes are in keeping with Milne's simple messages.

Never out of fashion, Milne's overriding theme of getting along with one another couldn't be more important than today. We watch in childlike wonder how the characters learn to accept strangers who are different from themselves, how to rely on friends in times of need, how to admit when we are wrong or fearful and to apologize (and to move forward when apologies are accepted), and how the least among us ought to be respected.

Though some of the intimate connection between actor and audience was challenged by the play's being staged in the large Festival theatre, this Winnie-the-Pooh preserved the author's intentions and charmed the enthusiastically responsive audience.