Being a bear of very little brain, Winnie the Pooh could hardly be expected to figure out his problems for himself. And in Winnie the Pooh, playwright Kristin Sergel's version of the children's favorite, Pooh needs all his friends to help him. Sergel melds a number of A.A. Milne's stories into one, but she basically stays true to the spirit of the originals--as does the production at the Aurora Fox, in which the fluff-stuffed hero gets into trouble and out again with a good deal of simple philosophy and a lot of affection. One of the best things about the show--featuring a nearly-all-kid cast (Kanga being the exception)--is seeing an audience of three- and four-year-olds take the adventures of the esteemed bear with such delight.
Sergel begins with the tale of Pooh attempting to steal honey from bees using Christopher Robin's balloon as an airship, then segues into fussy Kanga's attempts to bathe every dirty creature in sight. Baby Roo, meanwhile, longs for a playmate, and when Piglet shows up, Roo encourages Kanga to capture and bathe her. Once in the clutches of the fastidious Kanga, poor Piglet gets scrubbed so clean she changes color. It's a miserable life until Pooh offers to take Piglet's place--a kind of friendly self-sacrifice for his best friend.
Sergel sometimes meanders, and at those points the young audience gets restive. There's too much talk and not enough pratfalls. The minute a bunny baby falls over, the audience roars with laughter--kids have simple tastes, and action is what rivets their attention. The show could also use music--a good song can explain complex ideas to children while it speeds up the pace and breaks up the dialogue a bit.
But the young cast does a nice job. Due (I assume) to a paucity of male cast members, several of the characters' genders have been changed. Piglet, Pooh, Owl and Roo are played by girls. Stacey McMath sports her bear padding with just the right slow-witted good nature as Pooh. Beth Appel makes a truly delightful Piglet--very vulnerable and cute--and Maggie Flecknoe makes an amusing pedant as Owl. Rachel Risen's mischievous Roo is a convincing little rascal, but Laura Dakin's Kanga is less so--she's fussy enough, but insincere. The role would benefit from more comic invention. The bunny babies all giggle adorably, Eeyore the pessimistic donkey (Jacob Stanley) is sweetly morose, and Rabbit (Jas Anderson) is wily and cool as he dances to rap music.
Whenever children play the key roles in a play, there are bound to be some problems--it's not professional theater, and a few cues will inevitably be missed. Still, child actors like these offer younger children a special experience that even the very best professional children's theater can't--the opportunity to identify with the characters completely.
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