March 27, 2013

'Winnie the Pooh' production could bear some changes

Review: This gentle, unadorned production is probably best for the littlest ones.

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FORT WORTH -- A chubby yellow bear, with a major jones for honey, learns a few lessons about life in Disney's Winnie the Pooh, the Casa Mañana Children's Theatre production that opened Friday.

This musical stage adaptation, based on Disney's animated versions of A.A. Milne's Pooh stories, gets the job done, but little more. It is a simple telling of the tale, with few bells and whistles or impressive moments.

The performances, led by Stefanie Tovar as the title character, are as strong as they usually are in Casa's shows for young audiences. But the book and music (which includes songs by the noted team of Richard and Robert Sherman) fail to offer the players much room to shine. Alison Hodgson (Kanga), for example, has an exceptional voice, but the script provides her few opportunities to display it.

The costumes, by Tammy Spencer, are as they should be, although some of them (and especially Eeyore's) look a bit shopworn. Katie Dill's set is attractive but does little to set the scene. And it looks a bit too much like the one she used for the previous production, an outstanding updating of the Rapunzel tale.

The direction by Hans Meyer seems to be on the mark. This show lacks the manic zaniness found in a lot of children's shows, so there is only so much a director can do.

Unlike most of Disney's shows, the music is not engaging and the text is not very funny. It is gentle, unadorned storytelling that will probably work for only the youngest theatergoers. There is nothing here to entertain adults, which is not typically the case at Casa. The production admits that in a way by tacking on Kenny Loggins' House on Pooh Corner at the end of the show, just so the audience hears a song it knows (or wants to hear again).

So any shortcomings the production has may belong more to the show itself rather than how it is presented. But compared with most of the work of this type at Casa, this one bear-ly gets by.

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