A scene from Peter and the Wolf
(© Bert Hulselmans)
A scene from Peter and the Wolf
(© Bert Hulselmans)
Anne Geneen's new production of Peter and the Wolf, now playing at the New Victory Theater, is a brave experiment. It pairs Prokofiev's classic, which is meant to introduce children to the various instruments in an orchestra, with a new piece of music from composer Philip Feeney. It's a promising idea that proves to be, by turns, frustrating and enjoyable.

Before taking theatergoers on the adventure that Peter (Maurizio Montis) has with the Wolf (Paul Rooney, subbing for an injured Marco Chiodo), the show explains how Peter came to meet his friends, Bird (Eva Grieco), Duck (Christina Celini), and Cat (Alessandra Cito), while on a field trip in the forest with his schoolmates. For this prequel, Feeney has written a richly diverse score, with some lushly romantic sections and some soaring ones that are written in a vocabulary similar to John Williams'.

Unfortunately, this section proves to be a frustrating experience for young people and adults alike. Though the narrative for the story is basically straightforward, Didy Veldman's dances for the company are often over-generalized, leading to confusion or just plain restlessness for the kids in the audience. While Feeney has attempted to pattern his composition in a manner similar to Prokofiev's, he introduces concepts, such as a "safe place" in the woods for Peter's classmates, rather than specific instruments and easily recognizable musical themes, which are are frequently difficult to quickly pick up on. The narration, which is delivered with impish gravitas by Brian Blessed (who looks a bit like a a grandfatherly lumberjack), helps somewhat in understanding the action, but it's ultimately not enough to eliminate the frustration that comes with this section.

The flaws of the first section of the production disappear after intermission when Prokofiev's original is presented. The choreography takes on a delightful and crowd-pleasing specificity. Humor abounds in the dances for the animals. Particularly enjoyable are the sections that feature Celini's goofball Duck and Cito's preening and predatory Cat. The music and the themes in it -- seemingly known by heart by a majority of the kids in the audience at a recent press performance -- are equally clear. And even Montis' winning Peter and Rooney's superlatively athletic and menacing Wolf, enjoyable enough during the first half, shine more brightly in this section.

Throughout, lighting designer David W. Kidd bathes the woodsy set from designer Paul Gallis with wondrous color, while costume designers Yan Tax and Marie Lauwers create some fanciful and whimsical costumes for Peter's friends which capture the imaginations of theatergoers of all ages.