“Breathe everybody,” Isaac Mizrah urged the audience before beginning the day’s second performance of Peter and the Wolf. The intimate in-house theater proved to be a fitting venue for this exuberantly festive production of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition. Mizrahi’s invitation was a wise one – this 35-minute performance was a lively entrance into theater for its numerous youthful audience members.
A simple story of a young boy in search of adventure, disobeying his protective grandfather, Peter and the Wolf was intended to introduce children to the different musical instruments of an orchestra. In the 80+ years since it first premiered in America, the composition has been performed by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Alice Cooper, Dame Edna and Captain Kangaroo, among many others. At the Guggenheim, the story is told by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, who also narrated, designed and directed the production.
Mizrahi’s devotion to the show is long-lived; he first narrated Peter and the Wolf as part of the Guggenheim’s Works & Process in 2007 before directing in 2013. Now established as a holiday tradition, Mizrahi’s production is well-suited for the youthful audience that gathers at the Guggenheim – brightly colored, eagerly performed and an amusing fusion of comic and dramatic.
Each character is represented by a different instrument, performed by the Ensemble Signal and introduced by Mizrahi before the performance begins. Establishing a local connection with New York City children, Mizrahi has moved the story from Russia to Central Park, with brightly-colored urban costumes – Peter, played by Macy Sullivan, sports a beanie adorned with a pinwheel while Daniel Pettrow’s Wolf’s fur edges his casual costume of jeans and a gray sweatshirt. The Duck’s (Marjorie Folkman) wardrobe includes a white tutu skirt, while the Bird’s (Maxfield Haynes) en point is danced in high-top sneakers and Kristen Foote’s Cat’s costume is appealing soft.
As Peter frolics into the woods against his grandfather’s wishes, his enthusiasm is visible in his buoyant dance, while the Cat’s sinuous confidence and the Bird’s curiosity are each personified in simple, yet naturalistic choreography. Each animal’s interactions are amusingly depicted, including the Duck’s dive into the nearby river. Peter’s valiant efforts to capture the wolf, aided by the animal’s efforts, is briefly suspenseful before a hapless hunter, gamely played by Derrick Arthur, stumbles onto the scene.
John Heginbotham’s choreography is entertaining but also accessible to the young viewers, and the performance provides a suitable combination of humor, imagination and danger that captured the children’s attention. Peter’s grandfather (Gus Slomons Jr.) repeatedly enters the stage prior to his cue to be shuttle d off by an increasingly exasperated Mizrahi, before missing it, and at one point during the show, a child repeatedly asked, “Why did they kiss?” following an affectionate moment onstage.
Having attended hundreds of performances each year, this critic confidently states that children can be the most and least appealing audience members. Yes, they may have trouble sitting still or paying attention for a long periods of time, and if they are hungry, thirsty or tired, it’s likely that everyone around them will know it. But they also possess unlimited imagination, and their delight is unhampered by intruding elements such as stress or worry. A 35-minute performance telling the story of a brave little boy leaving home to embark on an adventure seems to be the gateway to what one hopes will be a lifetime of delight in the audience.
The moment the curtain call ended, a three-year-old seated next to me who had been visibly enthralled throughout the performance, was asked, “Did you like seeing a show?” He immediately replied, “I want to see more!”