Saturday, September 9, 2023

Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation

The Canberra cast
Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation

 Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Stage Musical by Jonathan Rockefeller.  Produced by TEG Life Like Touring, in partnership with Rockefeller Productions, and in association with Disney Theatrical Group. It features a cast of Australian and New Zealand artists.

Canberra Theatre Centre, Main Stage.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

The cast may include Jake Bazel as Pooh; Chris Palmieri as Tigger; Kirsty Moon as Piglet/Roo; Emmanuel Elpenord as Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl; and Kristina Dizon as Kanga/Owl. Actor playing Christopher Robin is not named.

Music by The Sherman Brothers—Robert B. Sherman and Richard M.

When I was four, near the end of World War 2, Pooh Bear was my favourite, on a par with Bambi.  Bambi’s mother, in the movie, was horribly murdered by cold-hearted deer hunters.  Pooh Bear’s naïve enthusiasm about doing things and hoping that things will turn out alright in the end, was such a relief.  

So I became an environment activist and a speaker for Amnesty International, and am still that four-year-old at the age of 82 and a half, because A.A.Milne’s characters were very much individuals with their own personal approach to life.  When reading Winnie the Pooh I was doing things in my bedroom with a group of friends I could trust to be interesting and thought provoking.

This production captured the core of the adventure to find ‘hunny’ for Pooh.  Of the characters Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Owl all had the right ‘feel’ of the Milne originals, but I lost the warmth and engaging feelings I expected from Pooh and Tigger.

Though all the complicated movement work in the actors visibly performing the puppets was perfectly done by everyone, the voice quality for Pooh needed to be more rounded and warm, more melodious.  He is a poet who sings and ‘hums’, and who sometimes goes quiet as he contemplates himself.  While Tigger sounded too harsh rather than volubly excited with his fascination for numbers, as well as bouncing, paralleling Pooh’s fascination with words.

I think, in representing these characters, Disney took over too much from Milne.  Fortunately there was no attempt to rewrite Milne as Disney has done often before.  The Englishness which is the central quality of Winnie the Pooh is not to be strained.

However the fun and humour of this show is thoroughly well done, as is the puppet designs, the set design, and the lighting – though I found the recorded sound track interfered a little with concentrating on the words.

The audience included too many very small babies who kept up a level of background noise, but the feeling at the end throughout was positive and appreciative of a successful search for hunny.