There's no lack of charming characters in The Snowy Day and Other Stories, which opened Friday at the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre. Chief among them is Willie, a wiggly, barky, waggy-tailed black dachshund.
Willie is a puppet, the constant companion of a bright, engaging child named Peter, played by a live actor. Seamlessly integrating puppets and human performers, this is a remarkably original production based on the books of Ezra Jack Keats, a lion of American children's literature who based his multiracial characters on his childhood in what was once the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn. ("If we could see each other exactly as the other is," he wrote, "this would be a different world.")
The Snowy Day revolves around an energetic exploration of his surroundings by Peter through a range of seasons, aided by the support of a loving family. He and his friends Archie, Amy, and others are portrayed with age-perfect accuracy by Charles Ronald Bradford, Jared Thomas Kneip Gibson, Verda Davenport and Sharon Combs.
Antics such as stomping patterns in newly fallen snow, imagining themselves as motorcycle riders and astronauts, figuring out how to whistle, and bounding with enthusiasm over a birthday that's a week away are so accurately portrayed that it's easy to forget the actors aren't elementary school-age kids.
Balancing the bouncy physical activity on the stage is a well-matched piano soundtrack by always tasteful musical director Lori Isner, with supporting percussion by Bryan Withers. And Drew Posey's versatile set grounds Peter's imaginative flights in a believable reality.
Director Katie Campbell surely faced plenty of challenges in integrating a background of intriguing shadow puppets with the words and movements of human actors, but the delightfully entertaining result makes the process feel natural and organic.
The Snowy Day continues through Feb. 18 at the Arkansas Arts Center Children's Theatre, Ninth and Commerce streets, Little Rock. More information is available at (501) 372-4000 or arkansasartscenter.org.
Metro on 02/03/2018
Print Headline: Actors, puppets mesh in Snowy Day playtime