The Alliance Theatre opens its 50th season
with a family musical based on the A.A. Milne books
and featuring the chubby little bear who has
gentle lessons for us all.
HOW DO WE LOVE Winnie-the-Pooh? Let us count the ways.
We love Pooh because he’s friendly and thoughtful, upbeat and true. He’s a contented bear who always hopes to come through, never wants to mess things up or let someone down. He just wants to enjoy the simple pleasures of every day.
Though he calls himself “a bear of very little brain,” Pooh often knows more than he thinks he does and has the common-sense solution that has escaped others. When you get right down to it, the chubby bear introduced in 1926 by British author A.A. Milne doesn’t need much — except a little snack. He’s forever thinking about “a small smackeral” or “a lick of honey.”
[ALLIANCE, HIGH MUSEUM PARTNER AGAIN WITH POOH: SCROLL DOWN]
Alliance Theatre education director Christopher Moses calls Pooh’s ability to follow his wonder and curiosity “a master class in mindfulness.” He likes the character’s generous heart and boundless curiosity, too.
With such admirable attributes, it’s no surprise that the Alliance is going young for the first celebration in a landmark anniversary. The 2018/19 season is the nationally known company’s 50th, no small feat.
Winnie-the-Pooh, a small-scale musical gleaned from the Pooh books, has been dramatized by Le Clanché du Rand, a South Africa-born, New York-based actor, playwright and drama therapist. Her script is a meaty one-act built for four actors playing eight roles. The Alliance, however, is using eight actors instead of doubling.
With school out during the run, the company decided to cast kids in three roles: Christopher Robin, Pooh’s human compatriot; Roo, the kangaroo; and Piglet, who sings about the fear of being clean and the joy of balloons.
Mabel Tyler, 13, who played Matilda in a recent national tour of Matilda the Musical, portrays the nervous little Piglet. Caleb Baumann, 13, is Christopher Robin, and 11-year-old CJ Cooper is Roo. Both boys were in the Alliance’s winter staging of The Jungle Book.
Into the Hundred Acre Wood
In naming his characters, author A.A. Milne (1882-1956) stayed close to home. “Pooh” comes from his son’s stuffed teddy bear, which, in turn, was named for a popular Canadian black bear at the London Zoo and a swan the Milne family met on holiday. Milne’s son and Pooh’s human buddy were both named Christopher Robin.
When the author needed characters to join Pooh Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood (modeled on Ashdown Forest and the Five Hundred Acre Wood in East Sussex, where the family had a country home), he looked no further than his son’s room, where he found toys named Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Tigger. Milne did invent Owl and Rabbit.
Regardless of what lofty reading material comes and goes from Moses’ night table, he always keeps a copy of Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh there.
“I pick it up from time to time because it asks some of the existential questions we tend to ask ourselves,” he says. “It provides the kind of wisdom that teaches us how to live a good life, how to walk through this world in a grateful and fulfilling way.”
And how to be a good friend. “The theme of friendship constantly comes up,” Moses says. “Milne has given us a charming guide on how to be a friend.”
Pooh, his forest friends and their adventures have proved timeless. Perhaps, says Moses, also the Alliance’s associate artistic director, that’s “because they reveal some profound truths about the human experience. We can almost all find a character we can relate to.”
For Moses, that’s Piglet, “given that I, too, tend toward nervousness.”
How about you?
High Museum, Alliance partner again
With Winnie-the-Pooh, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art collaborate for a fourth consecutive year to showcase the work of children’s book authors and artists.
At the High, Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic makes its first U.S. visit, opening June 2 and running through Sept. 2. The Alliance’s Winnie-the-Pooh musical runs through July 1. In recent years, the two entities have spotlighted the work of Ashley Bryan (Dancing Granny), Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and Mo Willems (Pancakes! Pancakes!).
The exhibition, organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is believed to be the first of its kind in more than 40 years. It explores the origins, creation and legacy of A.A. Milne’s stories and E.H. Shepard’s illustrations and features more than 200 works, including original illustrations, manuscripts and proofs along with early editions, letters, photographs, cartoons, ceramics and Pooh fashions.