For a city that has one of the most vibrant theatre scenes in the world, New York has very few theatre companies that are willing to produce shows geared toward the youngest and most challenging potential theatre-goers, pre-school-aged children. Those who want to find out the best way to reach this audience need only to have attended the Manhattan Children’s Theatre’s Little Tales series.
First and foremost, Little Tales was entertaining. The stories, adapted by Scott C. Embler from Native American folk tales, feature music, dance, puppetry, costumes, and plenty of humor. There are five stories: Coyote’s Rain Song; A Handful of Quartz; The Coyote and Turtle’s Race; The Mermaid and the Waterfall; and Tricky Rabbit’s Fancy Dancing. Only three stories were featured at each performance, each one short enough to keep a young child’s attention, but entertaining enough for both children and parents. The tales offer numerous chances for audience participation. At the beginning of the show, the audience learned a chant that began and ended the performance, “In a circle, a fire is built. In a circle, a song is danced. In a circle, a story is told.” They also received puppets of their own to use in the stories (cutouts of prairie dogs and fish), were asked plenty of questions throughout, and got to stand and move several times.
The show featured an exceptionally talented cast, all of whom played a variety of roles. Che Roberts, who served as the narrator, is a marvelous storyteller with a soothing voice and a patient and kind way of dealing with the children. The rest of the company -- Susie Abraham, Jonas Dickson, Emily Hartford, and Rob Yang -- were wonderful as well. With puppets and masks, singing, dancing, acting, and audience interaction, the actors had a variety of opportunities to demonstrate their theatrical skills and training, which they did exceptionally well. As is typical with Manhattan Children’s Theatre productions, the actors met the audience after the performance, which was a treat for the kids and let them ask questions about the show.
Since this production is shown during the run of MCT’s The Last of the Dragons, it incorporates Cully Long’s existing set. Long’s Native American costumes are beautiful and some pieces - the mermaid’s tail and the coyotes’ masks - are truly outstanding and work well in combination with Serra Hirch’s puppets.
Little Tales is an impressive production and a remarkable opportunity to introduce young children to the wonders of live theatre. With any luck, this will become a regular feature of the Manhattan Children’s Theatre.
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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison