Parents, children's literature fans, and well-read local kids are likely familiar with the work of Mo Willems. The author/illustrator is responsible for some critically acclaimed animated shows and beloved books, including "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus." His style is a blend of simple-yet-expressive animal characters with clever, quippy and emotionally resonant dialogue. In my house, the favorite is his "Elephant & Piggie" series, which is now presented at Palo Alto Children's Theatre in the form of "Elephant & Piggie's 'We Are In A Play!'"
The basis for the books in the series is the contrasting personalities of best friends Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie. Gerald is a neurotic worrywart with a heart of gold. Piggie is carefree, impulsive and bold. Together they embark on adventures and deal with a variety of emotions. Mostly, gleeful silliness ensues.
The staged version takes a number of plots from the book series, including, "I Am Invited to a Party!", "I Love My New Toy!", "Elephants Cannot Dance!", "We Are in a Book!", "I Am Going!" and others, and loosely links them. Willems' writing lends itself perfectly to dramatic presentations, as it's all dialogue, and it's augmented on stage by a number of jazzy songs, with lyrics by Willems himself and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, accompanied by live piano, drums, and upright bass.
The all-adult cast features Bill Olson as Gerald, Vicki Graff as Piggie, and three harmonizing, back-up singing squirrels ("The Squirrelles") played by Greer Michael, Heather Warren, and Lisa Claybaugh (who also works on the costume crew). Audiences can snap photos of themselves posing as Gerald and Piggie at a cut-out sign in front, and nibble on Elephant and Piggie cookies while getting the actors' autographs after the show.
Palo Alto Children's Theatre is a community treasure, giving local kids so many opportunities to watch and be involved in live theater. At the sold-out matinee I attended, most of the audience members were clearly already familiar with the characters, anticipating favorite punchlines and plot twists. Obviously, it's kid stuff, not Shakespeare, but Willems' writing is humorous enough to delight grown-ups as well. I brought with me a 2-year-old fan and theater-critic-in-training to this, her first-ever play, and she sat in rapt attention, exclaiming, "Yay, Piggie!" and, "This is a fun show -- just like in my books!" at intervals. I couldn't have put it better myself.
What: "Elephant & Piggie's 'We Are in a Play!'"
Where: Palo Alto Children's Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Through Feb. 14
Info: Go to Palo Alto Children's Theatre