There’s truth in advertising when it comes to Enchantment Theatre Company; its original world-premiere touring production of PETER RABBIT TALES is thoroughly enchanting! Based on the popular children’s stories by Beatrix Potter, the delightful show celebrates the 150th anniversary of the English author/illustrator’s birth and the company’s own fifteenth year as a non-profit arts organization dedicated to “igniting children’s imaginations everywhere.” It succeeds, not only with the kids, but with the kid in all of us.
The new adaptation, by Enchantment’s Jennifer Blatchley Smith, Leslie Reidel, and Landis Smith, combines the anthropomorphic characters and plot-lines from The Original Peter Rabbit Books (by arrangement with Frederick Warne & Company Limited and Penguin Books)–a collection of Potter’s 23 tales about the eponymous bunny and his circle of animal friends and foes. Here, Peter is now grown, and his sister Flopsy and cousin Benjamin are married, with babies of their own. When the carnivorous badger Tommy Brock kidnaps the little ones to make bunny pie, Benjamin and Peter come to the rescue, and think back on their own childhood adventures, as told in three of the beloved tales (The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, and The Tale of Mr. Tod).
In Enchantment’s signature style, the production employs clear and engaging storytelling that is readily comprehensible and engrossing to even the youngest members of the audience, with vivid voice-over narration (by Susan Sweeney) recounting the characters’ escapades and delivering all the dialogue. The agile ensemble (Katie Adkins, Trevor Cahill, Jo Vito Ramírez, Laura Sack, Clay Westman, and Alison Liney, who stars as Peter Rabbit) conveys their stories and emotions through expressive movement and puppetry, blending mime with balletic grace and the theatrical traditions of commedia dell’arte. The captivating choreography by Scott McPheeters is set to ebullient music by composer-in-residence Charles Gilbert, and the colorful artistic design recalls the era of Potter, with Victorian-style costumes and masks (which the performers don on stage, in full view of the audience, to signal their transition into the world of make-believe), Impressionist-inspired dappled lighting (David O’Connor) and landscape panels that compose the proscenium, coulisses, and backdrop (David Russell).
The show’s North-American tour runs through 2016, with plans underway to travel to Japan and Australia in 2017. In conjunction with the Philadelphia production, Enchantment is partnering with the Beatrix Potter Society, the Free Library, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and Philadelphia Sinfonia to offer supplemental events, and at the theater, children and accompanying adults can enjoy creative hands-on activities in “Peter’s Den” and “McGregor’s Garden.” Everything about this world-class production is inventive and endearing; it fully captures the spirit of the beloved stories, the essence of childhood, and the imagination of the audience, both young and old.
[Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad Street] December 12, 2015-January 3, 2016; enchantmenttheatre.org.