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Tay Bass as Archie and Jahbril Cook as Peter in "Goggles." photo by Adam Smith, Jr.
‘THE SNOWY DAY AND OTHER STORIES BY EZRA JACK KEATS’ at St. Luke’s Theater (playing in an open-ended run). When the author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats created his most famous character, Peter, in 1962, he helped change the face of children’s books, literally and figuratively. Peter was black, and though he was a little boy, he was a huge pioneer. Now his adventures have been adapted by Jerome Hairston in this production, directed by Julia Beardsley O’Brien and playing on Saturdays at 11 a.m. The show features four books about Peter: The first, the award-winning “The Snowy Day,” which explores the boy’s discovery of snow; “Whistle for Willie,” about his pet dachshund and learning a new skill; “Goggles!,” in which Peter and a friend encounter bullies; and “A Letter to Amy,” which centers on a first friendship with a girl. With incidental music by Victor Zupanc, shadow puppets by Charlotte Lily Gaspard and just three actors — Tay Bass, Jahbril Cook and Garrett Gray — the 45-minute play gives life to a boy who transformed the literary world by inviting children into his private one.
We entered St. Luke's Theatre a few minutes before the 11am start time (my son, Wes, was mesmerized with all the souvenir shops and the 5-foot-tall Statue of Liberty replica along the way) to an almost full house of parents with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and younger elementary school kids. We still scored a good spot midway back. (It is open seating/general admission.)
The small, intimate stage was set with minimal props: a large white backdrop and a few white wooden boxes. Out came Jahbril Cook as Peter, and Tay Bass and Garrett Gray, who serve various roles: narrators, Peter's parents, friends, the dog, sound effects and operate shadow puppets to charmingly help illustrate each story.
The collection of four of Keats' stories is partially a celebration of the city. Each vignette is adapted from one of his books, while highlighting slices of New York life. The Snowy Day, which won the author a Cakdecott Medial in 1963, is the first performance. It is definitely the most known of the author's books in our house, and Cook perfectly captured his character's adventures through the sidewalk snow and the disappointment of losing your snowball overnight.
The three stories that follow shadow Peter as he grows up: After a lot of practice (and frustration) Peter learns how to call his dog and take him along to the neighborhood bodega in Whistle for Willie; he and his friend Archie face off with the big kids in Goggles!, and he faces major challenges getting a special birthday-party invitation to the corner mailbox in A Letter To Amy.
Each story runs about 10 minutes, which was ideal for my son. Just enough to get into it, not too long to lose interest. Aside from warm and engaging acting, the cast used shadow puppets and sounds effects to complement their roles: They played the parts of everything from a growing snowman and sledding scenes in The Snowy Day to the neighborhood baddies in Goggles!.
While kids ages 3 to 8 (the recommended range) might not be aware of the race relations swirling around them these days, but I can't think of a better time to spotlight the works of Jack Ezra Keats. The Snowy Day won the Caldecott Award winner in 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Keats, who was Jewish and grew up in Brooklyn, wanted no child to be an outsider, once said, "If we could see each other exactly as the other is, this would be a different world.”
The cast did a meet-and-greet after the performance and happily took photos with audience members, leaving the crowd on a happy, positive note. It is directed by Julia Beardsley O'Brien, who also directed the just closed, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; adapted by Jerome Hairston; and the music is by Victor Zupanc.
Of note: Strollers are permitted. You can grab an end seat and keep it open throughout the performance. You must purchase tickets for toddlers and up.
The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats performs every Saturday at 11am at St. Luke’s Theatre.
"Hi! I took my two young daughters, ages 5 and 3, to see
'The Snowy Day' on Saturday and they both loved it. We have The Snowy Day at home and they have both been reading it in their classrooms as part of their units discussion wintertime/seasons/snow. I wanted to share my daughter Rehema's reaction when she saw Tay, Jahbril and Garrett greeting the audience after the show -- "Mama, there were only THREE people!!?? How was there only three??" She really could not believe that it was only three actors since there were so many more characters in the show -- that is how real and captivating and MAGIC you all were. Thanks again for such a wonderful theater experience!" - S. Yung
"My friend, who is a children's librarian, and I loved the show. We especially loved how beautifully it kept the many kids in the audience involved and enraptured. Thank you for treating us to this Saturday morning delight!" - C. Best