Theater review: ‘The House at Pooh Corner’

My mother was eight years old when A.A. Milne’s children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh made its debut in 1926. Times were different then, and that 8-year-old quickly fell in love with Pooh, Christopher Robin and their oddball menagerie of friends.

My mom is 92 now, but she still loves Pooh. So does her daughter, who inherited a fondness for the goings-on in the Hundred Acre Wood – and who can’t help be tickled by Orlando Repertory Theatre’s production of The House at Pooh Corner, which is just as sweet and prickly as a Pooh story ought to be.

The House at Pooh Corner, of course, is aimed at little folks, and they’re sure to be delighted by the bright colors and idiosyncratic characters of director Steve MacKinnon’s production, which finds individuality in the smallest character onstage. (And when I say small, I mean small: Clarissa Moon and Emma Myers, who play Late Rabbit and Early Rabbit, aren’t much bigger or older than the kids in the audience, and both of them are bursting with personality.)

But grownups, too, will find a lot to like in the Rep’s production, where MacKinnon – better known as a director of musicals – has found plenty of places for melody to make you laugh. One of the characters thinks Christopher Robin is being sent to school in Africa, so we hear some Lion King-like music, and when the loud and bouncy Tigger appears, the lyrics you hear sound like a sped-up version of “tig-a-tig-a-tig-a-tig-a-tig-a-tig-a-tig.”

Tan Huaixiang has costumed the cast in cheery colors and patterns (the two little rabbits are in striped tights and polka-dot galoshes), and Tom Mangieri’s fanciful set gives Tigger, especially, plenty of opportunity to bounce. But it’s the quirky, anthropomorphic animals – just like those in Milne – that make this show so dear.

There’s Kanga (a stern Lori McCaskill), presenting an extreme example of overprotective motherhood; there’s the ever-so-timid Piglet (Robyn Scrivener, decked out in pink muffler, pink knickers and pink sneakers), and there’s the petulant-voiced Eeyore (Jef Holbrook, speaking as if he has a perpetual cloud over his head).

The rest of the cast is good, too, and Adam DelMedico’s disorderly Tigger deserves special mention: With his hip-hop-flavored movements and his lisp, this Tigger is a hoot, and the show moves like wildfire whenever he’s on stage. It may be a stretch to imagine a Winnie-the-Pooh story as speedy, but MacKinnon has done it, and he’s found just the right note of old-fashioned gentility along the way. Christopher Robin – and my mom – would be pleased.

‘The House at Pooh Corner’

What: Orlando Repertory Theatre production of Bettye Knapp’s adaptation of A.A. Milne book.
Where: Universal Stage, Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando.
When: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 7.
Cost: $17 general, $15 seniors and students, $11 age 17 and under.
Call: 407-896-7365.
Online: orlandorep.com.

Photo: Winnie-the-Pooh (Adam Graham) and Piglet (Robyn Scrivener), courtesy of Orlando Repertory Theatre.

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