A Party the Keiki Don't Want to Miss
For those unfamiliar (like I was), Elephant and Piggie are characters from a series of books by Mo Willems geared towards early readers. The elephant’s name is Gerald, and the pig’s name is Piggie, and they have 30 books that span their adventures in friendship. With publication starting from 2007, they have wanted to fly, been invited to parties, went for a drive, and many other things. The two Best-Best friends are nigh inseparable, and the fun and mischief they may find themselves in always brings them back together in the end.
Honolulu Theatre For Youth’s next play in their season is titled Elephant & Piggie’s “WE ARE IN A PLAY!” (also written by Willems) and with a title ending in an exclamation point, there is bound to be a ton of fun! I have not read any of the books myself, but a quick jaunt through Gerald and Piggie’s library shows that the plot of the production borrows plot elements from many of the books, at least three of them that I see. We follow Gerald and Piggie as they get invited to a party by the Squirrelles, a trio of purple clad dancing and singing squirrels. The two get to interact with their friends, Delivery Dog and Ice Cream Penguin, even debating about sharing the ice cream they got from the latter. We also get to see Piggie and the Squirrelles encourage Gerald to dance- even though he firmly believes elephants can’t dance! Then comes a point where they realize they’re in a play, inviting the audience both young and old (if the adults don’t play too, they will notice!) to play a few games with them. The show is a treat for younger audiences, and a wonderful pairing to go with anyone reading the book series to or with their keiki. Adults watching the show with their keiki will enjoy Willems’ crafty lines and references, which he leaves in ensuring those with pert ears will also be rewarded!
As a production, HTY spares no expense as the company mounts the show with as much over-the-top fun as it calls for. As the piano player, musical director, Delivery Dog and Ice Cream Penguin, Sean-Joseph Choo silently (because he’s behind a piano for almost all the show) conducts the cast with his piano playing, bringing the music by Deborah Wicks La Puma to life. The Squirrells- Christina Uyeno, Claire Fallon, and Susan Hawes —not only are the trio of party-throwing singing squirrels they are, but team up with Choo to highlight and elevate the musical numbers. Filling the stage and crafting beautiful pictures, this team helps frame our two leads: Nathaniel Niemi as Gerald and Maki’ilei Ishihara as Piggie. The show is quite demanding, having Niemi and Ishihara singing on stage for most of, if not all of, the production. This doesn’t stop them as audiences will marvel at their energy and charisma, in and out of musical numbers and bits of physical comedy sprinkled everywhere. All in all, the production is a story about friendship- what it means to be friends, and how durable a friendship ought to be. Niemi and Ishihara’s chemistry with each other, and in turn the audience, is a sight to see.
Director Eric Johnson and choreographer Ligaya Stice’s work with the company was very fun to watch- between crafted stage pictures and jaunty (and inventive) choreography, there’s always something to see on stage, even if no one is moving! Framing the big event is Joseph Dodd’s constantly-surprising-you set, and he pulled triple duty designing the bonkers (yet jazzy) costumers and the out-of-this-world (yet wildly functional) props. Rounding out the design team is Matthew Mazzella designing sound and Brian Gilhooly designing lights, with Iris Kim constructing the playful looks the Dodd had designed. All in all, the production team should be proud, as technically speaking everything was sound and yet wonderfully reflected the playful energy of both Gerald and Piggie.
What a ride! I was Lucky-Ducky to have been able to catch such a fun and whimsical production. Earnest in its camp and feelings, this musical is great for younger keiki, and the adults with them will have a blast too. Elephant & Piggie’s “WE ARE IN A PLAY!” is running at Tenney Theatre on Saturdays through January 26. For more information about the production, the sensory friendly/ASL performance, ON STAGE workshops for youth, or tickets, click here.