Celebrities generally receive applause on their first theatrical entrance — a tradition that too-cool-for-school Chicago audiences often eschew in honor of our ensemble egalitarianism. Some of us, though, are less repressed in expressing our sheer delight when a bold-face name slinks onstage.
So it went at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre on Sunday morning, when the Very Hungry Caterpillar, whose partying in West Hollywood is a tabloid staple, made his first appearance as part of "A Brown Bear, A Moon and A Caterpillar," part of the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia's puppet production of some of the much-loved stories of Eric Carle. Thanks to the Canadian theater company's "no-shush" policy, announced at the start of the show and accompanied by a veritable symphony of parental sighs of relief, the fuzzy, crawling larva was greeted with enough oohs, ahhs, "cools" and "wows" to turn his foam head, if he only could make such a move unaided by one of his handlers.
And thus it continued as the titular pre-butterfly chomped his way through apples and pears and other useful reminders that Happy Meals do not grow on trees. Excitement and pleasure was all around, especially when the dude kicked his fruit away, a motion with which many in the house clearly sympathized.
The caterpillar has been in Chicago before — I thought I saw him on the water taxi but maybe it was one of his cousins — but this time the Chicago Children's Theatre also has booked the Brown Bear — a very big, new puppet with a jovial lumbering motion — and, in an attempt to make all fathers everywhere feel inadequate, the papa who gets a big ladder, climbs it and gets his daughter her very own moon. Yeah. So what did you do for your kid this weekend?
This is a traditional black-light type of show, a perennial favorite of those too young to be embarrassed by things that glow. And it's the only such production authorized by Carle, which means that what your kid knows from the beloved picture books will genuinely seem to have come alive on the stage in the same visual palette. One young lady near me with her dad wished to share that this was the best Sunday morning ever, which I promised to pass along.
This entire shebang is created by two puppeteers and a stage manager — it doesn't take much, really, for the best Sunday morning ever — but the production values are still impressive, especially the cut-out guy with the kind of really, really long ladder he needs to snag a moon. I wonder how they got that thing here from Nova Scotia.
The last time Mermaid Theatre was here, it was in a side room at the Field Museum. The more legitimate surroundings of the Biograph serve the show much better. Mermaid's simple, beautiful and thoroughly engrossing work is delightfully displayed. And these are not pretentious keepers of artistic secrets. After the show, they pop out and show the kids how it's all done.
Boy, though, this is not a show for those who hate spoilers. Thanks again to that no-shush policy, no plot point went unaccompanied by a loud voice from the seats, usually many at once, beating the recorded narrator to the punch. They know about pupation pretty young these days and have no compunction about enlightening we who are ignorant.
When: Through May 27
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $15-$41 at 773-871-3000 or chicagochildrenstheatre.orgCopyright © 2015, RedEye