Everyone’s favorite bear (courtesy of the beloved A.A. Milne stories) is back in a new musical stage adaptation of the Disney shorts which spawned the feature, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and the later television series. Jonathan Rockefeller’s new musical adaptation (with additional dialogue by Jake Bazel) simply called Winnie the Pooh also includes five songs from the famed Sherman Brothers written for three Disney shorts, as well as two songs with words by A.A. Milne himself from Piglet’s Big Movie. Presented at the Hundred Acre Theatre, the third floor space on Theatre Row, the show also offers a gift shop with stuffed animals of the main characters as well as other merchandise to please children of all ages.
The question arises who is the intended audience. The 60-minute show is too slow for young children and too repetitious for adults. Possibly this is meant for the nostalgia crowd of which there are apparently legions. The thin story line is a watered-down version of the original A.A. Milne stories that inspired the animated films Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day as well as a tale of Tigger’s infamous bouncing. All of the famous characters put in an appearance: easily frightened Piglet, gloomy Eeyore, cranky Rabbit, wise Owl, energetic Tigger, maternal Kanga and curious Roo. Christopher Robin (played alternately by Kaydn Kuioka, Max Lamberg, and Cooper Lantz) spends the day at school but is reunited with Winnie the Pooh just before the final curtain. Surprisingly, he does not have a British accent.
The best elements of the show are the life-size puppets manipulated and voiced by a team of five actors. While the acting is inconsequently bland, the colorful puppets by Rockefeller Productions reaching as tall as six feet high when Tigger stands on his hind legs are the Ernest H. Shepard illustrations and the Disney animation brought to life in living color: Pooh in yellow and with his red shirt, Tigger in orange, Piglet in pink and green, Eeeyore in grey, Owl in shades of browns and grey, Kanga in tan, and Roo in tan and his blue sweater. The cast of puppeteers have been costumed in shades of blue (jumpsuits, painter paints and coverall combinations) by Lindsay McWilliams which fade into the background so one sees only the puppets.
Jake Bazel as Pooh has the majority of the songs (“Winnie the Pooh,” “The Blustery Day,” “The More It Snows,” “Sing-Ho (For the life of a bear)” with Chris Palmieri as Tigger being given two songs “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” and “Whoop-De-Dooper Bounce” which are each reprised. While the music is certainly melodic, it is somewhat undercut by being recorded, and not played by a live orchestra. David Goldstein’s unit set design is functional without being memorable, while the lighting by Jamie Roderick goes a long way to changing the mood and the tone. On the other hand, the uncredited flying and special effects (it actually snows in the Hundred Acre Wood) are a highlight of the show.
Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation is a pleasant enough hour. However, if you are looking for a typical Disney experience like Mary Poppins or The Lion King, this isn’t it. The short length is likely to make it possible to bring children with limited attention spans to the theater. It would help if they have read or heard the original A.A. Milne books or have seen the Disney animated films to fill in the gaps.
Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation (through January 28, 2022)
Rockefeller Productions in association with Disney Theatrical Productions
The Hundred Acre Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.WinnieThePoohShow.com
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission