The most successful children’s puppet show in New York history continues to delight children and their parents at the DR2 Theatre on East 15th Street and Park Avenue South. It’s no wonder that it’s such a winner since it’s based on one of the most beloved children’s series of books of all time by writer Eric Carle. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is perfectly paced and gently performed, with brilliantly colored puppets and a talented quartet of young puppeteers.
We say perfectly paced and gently performed because four of Carle’s stories are recited calmly and slowly, as if being read before bedtime. Hand gestures, animal voices, lighting techniques, and backdrops accentuate the stories about the Big Brown Bear with friends, the 10 Little Rubber Ducks lost at sea, the Very Lonely Firefly mistaking various night lights as family members, and the big finale: The Very Hungry Caterpillar himself munching through an eclectic mixture of food.
The puppets have been cleverly designed and move like the real things. The Big Brown Bear appears first, climbing slowly, lifelike, up four steps to the stage with the two handlers moving the puppet carefully and with precision. Even the oldest amongst us will be enthralled at the puppetry. The youngsters in the audience are mesmerized, they clap and laugh as new puppets take the stage. A few in the audience even brought their own copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar book, which debuted in 1969 and became an instant classic, selling 43 million copies worldwide. Once the caterpillar chomps its way through a selection of fruit, a pickle, a slice of pizza, ice cream, and the like, it curls up in its cocoon to emerge as a stunning butterfly.
When Carle was asked why he choose the word “cocoon” over the more scientifically correct, “chrysalis,” he responded with a story from his youth. “My caterpillar is very unusual. As you know caterpillars don’t eat lollipops and ice cream, so you won’t find my caterpillar in any field guides. But also, when I was a small boy, my father would say, ‘Eric, come out of your cocoon.’ He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, ‘Come out of your chrysalis.’ And so poetry won over science!”
At about an hour long, the timing is just right for the pre-schooler set (though it’s advertised from ages three months up to 96), and at show’s end, the puppets make an appearance for photo ops and big waves from the crowd. Before the show begins, instructions are few: “stay in your seats, laugh and make noise as much as you want, and tell your grown up to put their cell phone away or they’ll get a time out.” If the child wants to linger in the lobby afterwards, there’s a souvenir table, and coloring station with artwork that’s not taken home tacked up on the walls.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar opened in New York in February 2016 and has been performed in Australia, New Zealand, London, with a limited run in Dubai. It’s been winning award after award including a Drama Desk Award, and Best International Performance (2017), with nominations for Best Family Show (2016), and Unique Theatrical Experience (2016).
Once the show is done, especially after hearing all the foods the caterpillar has gnawed through, you may find yourself very hungry, too.
Photos by Russ Rowland