BOB BROWN PUPPETS’ CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS
nytheatre.com review by Hope Cartelli
When I was taking music appreciation classes back in elementary
school (we’re talkin’ mid-1980s here), my teachers’ efforts did
not enlighten or entertain me half as much as Bob Brown Puppets’
adaptation of Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.
August 15, 2003
The friendly narrator, who introduces himself as Todd Robbins, along with two puppeteers (the precise and energetic Krista Brown Robbins and Peter Brown) and a host of foam-bodied creatures great and small, encourages the audience to pay close attention with both eyes and ears to the simultaneously sweet, humorous and beautiful music of Saint-Saens. It is explained early on that Saint-Saens composed the Carnival pieces as a means of providing interesting fodder for his young students’ music lessons.
Clocking in at a toddler-friendly 45 minutes, the piece opens in a child’s bedroom replete with toybox, drawing easel, and small piano. From here, our guide Todd introduces us to the puppet Nicky, a wonderfully larger-than-life-size, sweet-natured little boy who likes to practice tickling the ivories before bedtime (his favorite exercise is Saint-Saens’ "The Pianist") and will only fall asleep to the strains of Carnival.
It is when Nicky is in full slumber that the bedroom becomes center stage for Saint-Saens’ animals and Todd’s observations on what instruments play the role of each. The audience is treated to a donkey with a violin "hee haw," a cat hunting a clarinet-voiced cuckoo, and a school of fish in an underwater paradise primarily created with a harp.
There are also numerous fantastical, imaginative interpretations of the music, including a majestic figure-skating swan (who seems to be saying "Eat your heart out, Disney on Ice!" with every triple lutz), a bedside table that transforms into an elephant, a magician kangaroo and—my personal favorite—a ballerina turtle dancing to what Todd describes as one of Saint-Saens’ fruitful attempts at a "musical joke": a wittily slowed-down can-can.
Bob Brown Puppets successfully excites the young ones in the audience with Saint-Saens’ music and magical puppetry. Their greatest success, though, is that they excite the adults as well. If you have a child to bring along, do so, but don’t shy away if you don’t.