Buffalo’s Allendale Theatre stage has been transformed into the Hundred Acre Wood as a talented cast of actors from Theatre of Youth brings the A.A. Milne classic “The House at Pooh Corner” to life. There is something magical about sitting in the middle of the audience for any show presented by TOY.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with Shea’s or the Irish Classical – both are fantastic venues in which to enjoy live theater – there is just something about hearing the chatter of small children, the unapologetic talking, asking questions, and wearing every ounce of their considerable enthusiasm on their sleeve, that makes it a uniquely wonderful experience.
Such was the case Friday night for the opening of “The House at Pooh Corner,” when a crowd that was surprisingly large considering it was one of Buffalo’s first 80-degree days, attended the premiere of the last show to be performed in the Allendale for the season.
You know the story by now – Tigger (Ricky Marchese) is lovably crazy, Eeyore (Dan Greer) is sad he has no place to call home and Christopher Robin (Reed Bentley) learns he must say goodbye to his friends because he is being sent away to school.
Pooh, Owl, Rabbit and the gang are determined to fix all three problems – what they don’t know is that they’ll learn a few lessons along the way.
There is a trick to performing a book classic such as “Winnie the Pooh” for children, many of whom haven’t even started school yet. They lack, to a degree, the ability to see characters differently than they know them to be. In the case of “The House at Pooh Corner,” the challenge lies with Pooh himself.
The title character is a lovable bear that’s as recognizable as anyone cartoon figure in America. So when Kevin Craig ambled onto the stage in street clothes, it was tough for younger kids to understand who he was. No big bear head, no fuzzy paws with which to scoop out his customary honey; in fact, no honey pot at all.
This led to several parents within earshot explaining to their children who Pooh was – an explanation that came with many confused looks.
It was an idea that resonated in the lobby and spilled out onto the sidewalk at intermission.
The consensus: The acting was great, but Pooh isn’t Pooh. If you can overcome that obstacle, you’re in for a treat.
Among a superbly talented cast, Marchese steals the show as the acrobatic, lovable Tigger. He bounds across the stage with the reckless abandon that fans of the springy tiger are used to, and delivers his lines with the same humor that has made his cartoon counterpart a legend.
Larry Smith does a wonderful job capturing the quirky nuances of Rabbit, and Dan Greer tackles the challenge of portraying the hopelessly depressed Eeyore, and does his donkey proud.
The cast works well together, displaying a chemistry that makes this production work. In several scenes, almost all of the actors are on stage at once, and they play off of each other very well, and keep the kids on the edge of their seats throughout the show.
What: “The House at Pooh Corner”
Where: Theatre of Youth, 203 Allen St.
When: Through June 7