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A scene from Winnie the Pooh
(Photo © Feld Entertainment)
When I was a boy, I owned a stuffed Tigger. He was always my favorite inhabitant of the Hundred Acre Wood, so I was rather pleased that his entrance in the Disney Live! production of Winnie the Pooh drew the most applause from the children at the performance I attended. Currently at the Beacon Theatre for a limited holiday engagement, the show is a fun trip down memory lane for adult audience members, but it's really aimed at the kids who seem to delight in this interactive production.

The show is inspired by the stories by A.A. Milne and Disney's animated Winnie the Pooh films. It includes such familiar tunes as "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers," "Rumbly in My Tumbly," and the Winnie the Pooh theme song; the audience is often invited to sing along or to perform simple exercises to the music. On the down side, most of the numbers seem to be pre-recorded -- not that you'd be able to tell this by watching the actors playing Pooh et al. Their entire bodies, including their mouths, are engulfed within their costumes, which are faithfully designed by Gregg Barnes to mimic the well-known appearances of the characters.

In fact, the only live vocal performance here is that of Tracie Franklin who narrates the tale and sings a few of the songs. Franklin is quite charismatic and sounds terrific, particularly in her solo, "Your Heart Will Lead You Home." She's assisted by a trio of clowns, known only as the Hunny Helpers, whose voices are also curiously pre-recorded even though their faces are visible. As a result, the show has a canned quality that is somewhat off-putting.

The plot is fairly simple. It's Winnie the Pooh's birthday, and all of his friends -- Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, and Roo -- are throwing him a surprise party. Of course, they need to keep Pooh away from the party planning, which is more difficult than it initially seems. After Tigger's bouncing disrupts Rabbit's cake baking, the infuriated Rabbit says a few choice words that send Tigger away, which then prompts Pooh and Piglet to go in search of him.

Director B T McNicholl's staging includes some fun flying effects, such as when Pooh and Piglet are launched into the air with the help of balloons. Also, a trampoline on a tree stump provides Tigger with a nice springboard for his bouncing. Annie Louizos's set and production design effectively suggests the storybook world that the characters inhabit, with video projections (including live audience shots at one point) adding some technological glitz to the proceedings. Patrick Dierson's lighting greatly contributes to the overall look of the show, particularly his moody, fog-enhanced renditions of the darker part of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli -- best known for campy musical theater projects like Altar Boyz, Bat Boy, and the Fringe hit Silence! The Musical -- seems a bit hampered in his efforts here. It must be difficult to choreograph anything too complex for actors wearing costumes that must limit their peripheral vision as well as their ability to move fluidly. The most successful dance number, "Someone Like Me," is performed by Tigger (who has the most streamlined outfit of the various Pooh characters) and the three Hunny Helpers.

With a top ticket price of $78.50, this Disney Live! show makes for an expensive outing -- especially if you also factor in the costs of all the Pooh merchandise, on sale at the theater, that kids will inevitably expect to be bought for them. Though Winnie the Pooh is certainly entertaining, it isn't as lavish as Disney's Broadway productions The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. It's a light-hearted amusement that breaks no new ground, features only one live vocal performance, and relies primarily on nostalgia and merchandising for its success. Still, that might be enough to satisfy many children and their parents.

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