By Sarah Downs
Reason 4,723 to visit in New York City: Peter & the Wolf , directed and narrated by Isaac Mizrahi. What an absolute delight. Appearing annually at the Guggenheim Museum since 2012 as part of the Works & Process program, Mizrahi’s take on this classic children’s tale has become a holiday tradition. I think everyone should make it a stop on their holiday pilgrimage, like The Nutcracker, and the festive window displays along 5th Ave.
Mizrahi adds a dash of his own brand of gentle snark to everything from the costumes (which he designed) to the libretto, in theatrical asides and onstage pranks reminiscent of the traditional British holiday Pantomimes. Completely at ease onstage, Mizrahi charms as he narrates, introducing the various orchestral instruments, each of which portrays a character in distinct musical motif.
The first measures of Prokofiev’s whimsical score, ushering Peter (Kara Chan) onstage with a few sweeps of the bow across violin strings, establish his personality in an instant. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, Peter is ready to run and jump, relishing his freedom in Central Park on a sunny afternoon. In short pants, school blazer and helicopter beanie, Chan could not be more adorable. She dances with such joy and clarity. As the Bird, Paige Barnett Kulbeth gracefully flutters in on a cascade of notes from the flute, an elegant ballerina in athletic socks. By contrast, in tulle petticoat and cat-eyeglasses, knitting in hand, Marjorie Folkman takes a delicious comic turn as the Duck, waddling in to the tune of the oboe. She is indeed an odd duck. Soon menace appears in the form of a Cat (Zach Gonder), whose long limbs threaten to overtake its prey with minimal effort, in a few sly measures on the clarinet.
However, little do they know, the Wolf (Daniel Pettrow) has been lurking in plain sight. As his theme sounds on the French horn, Pettrow makes the most of every gesture, stretching luxuriously as he prepares to saunter over to his next meal. This is one self-assured wolf. After barely escaping Cat, will Duck become Wolf’s dinner? Who can save her? Perhaps the Hunter (Derrick Arthur) with the rat-a-tat-tat-tat on the timpani will chase him away. Cheerful though he may be, Hunter is not the speediest Eagle Scout we’ve ever met, so maybe we should ask Grandfather (a cheeky Norton Owen)… Where is Grandfather?
John Heginbotham has choreographed dance motifs perfectly suited to each character, from Peter’s boyish hi-jinks to the Bird’s balletic legato. The musicians of the Julliard/Carnegie Hall Ensemble Connect, conducted by Michael P. Atkinson bring Prokofiev’s score to life. Despite their youth they sound like professionals on loan from a symphony orchestra. A simple set and gentle lighting casting leafy shadows on the walls complete the effect. In Peter & the Wolf, Mizrahi and Heginbotham have collaborated to bring to the stage something authentically charming, suited for children and adults.
It’s too bad this show has such a brief run but fear not — a sequel plays next weekend (Dec. 15th at 6:30 and Dec. 16th at 2:30 and 4:00pm) at the Guggenheim. Mizrahi and brilliant young composer Nico Muhly have created Third Bird, an homage to Peter & the Wolf, accompanied by Dance Heginbotham and Ensemble Connect, For tickets Peter & the Wolf and Third Bird, go to www.worksandprocess.org.
The magic need not end!
Peter & the Wolf, composed by Serge Prokofiev. Conceived, directed, costumed and narrated by Isaac Mizrahi. Choreographed by John Heginbotham. With: Kara Chan, Paige Barnett Kulbeth, Norton Owen, Daniel Pettrow, Marjorie Folkman, Derrick Arthur and Zack Gonder.
Presented by Works and Process, at the Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Ave.) Dec, 8th-10th. For tickets to go worksandprocess.org. Run time 30 minutes.