Coterie’s ‘Penguins’ mesmerizes audiences

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By use of toe-tapping music, fun choreography, snappy costumes, zany characters, and perfect casting, one of the most charming musicals created for young audiences, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” opened Friday at The Coterie Theatre to a packed auditorium and grabbed the audiences attention from beginning to end.

“The Coterie Theatre continues its 40th season of live theatre for families and young audiences with the musical adaptation of the beloved book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, for families with ages seven and older. It tells the adventures of Mr. & Mrs. Popper when a mysterious box on their doorstep leads to a house full of penguins and worldwide adventures,” the Coterie said.

From the beginning, the cast presented a crazy assortment of characters, specifically designed to hold the attention of any and all audience members. Watching the audience as much as the live performance, adults and children remained focused on the actors. Adults smiled, chuckled, leaned forward in their seats. Younger members of the audience just seemed relaxed, engaged, and super delighted with the 65-minute show.

The Coterie has another winner to add to their list of very successful productions. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” could be repeated semi-regularly and guaranteed to draw huge audience reception like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Those two alternating shows sell out almost as soon as they open. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” could do the same.

Part of the magic comes from the chemistry of lead actors Seth Jones and Elise Poehling who breathe life into Mr. and Mrs. Popper. They provide very animated characters without going too far or extreme. Their song and dance numbers just ooze charm because of their animation and strong vocal abilities. The duo keeps the audience focused on them, even when the penguin puppets come on stage. It’s true, the penguins are cute and the puppeteers help distract from the live actors, but Jones and Poehling give such solid characters that they remain the focus of the story.

Jones and Poehling create the strong foundation for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” but do not give all the credit to them. Supporting characters from Roan Ricker and Antonia Washington fill out the cast by presenting a myriad of different characters, some with rapid-fire changes. Ricker specifically brings a ton of humor with his development and presentation of varied characters. As The Coterie’s featured performer this season, Ricker gets the chance to change into many characters and put his individualized stamp on each one. He’s fantastic.

Another part of the appeal of “Mr. Popper’s Puppets comes from the musical direction of Anthony Edwards on keyboard. The 88’s burst with his adaptation of the score.

Do not delay in reserving tickets for “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” It reigns as one of the cutest shows The Coterie has produced in the past few years. Just by watching the audience while listening to the dialogue and music, it’s easy to see and hear why and how this children’s show captivates a wide age range. With a 65-minute run time, even the youngest audience members will enjoy this show.

Directed by Heidi Van, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” is a delightful hour long musical for all ages with a script by Robert Kauzlaric, music and lyrics by George Howe. The musical adapted from the Newbery Honor Book by Richard & Florence Atwater will be performed live on The Coterie’s stage, February 26 through March 31.

The cast of Mr. Popper’s Penguins features Seth Jones (as Mr. Popper), Elise Poehling (as
Mrs. Popper), Roan Ricker (as Mr. Johnson, Admiral Drake, Delivery Guy, Barber, Reporter,
Policeman, Bus Driver, Theatre Manager, Sven Svenson), Antonia Washington (as Mrs. Callahan, Gentleman, Curator, Passenger, Mr. Greenbaum, Cab Driver, Copper), and Faith “Phoenix” Johnson and Ashley Elliott-Rowe (as Penguin Puppeteers).

The artistic and production company includes Heidi Van (director), Danielle Renee (production stage manager), Scott Hobart (set designer, technical director), Jarrett Bertoncin (lighting designer), Georgianna Londré Buchanan (costume designer), David Kiehl (sound designer), Joyce Merrill (properties/set dressing), and Taylor Jene Sullan (production assistant).

The Coterie, now in its 40th Season, performs “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” February 26 – March 31, in The Coterie Theatre, located on level one of the Crown Center shops in Kansas City, Missouri. Individual Tickets: Tickets are $13 for youth under 18, students, and seniors age 60 and older; and $17 for adults. Group Pricing: The Coterie offers groups of 20 or more a special preview rate of $5 per person the first week of each production. After preview week, groups pay only $5 – $8 per person depending on performance dates.

Tags: The Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” review, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Crown Center

Images courtesy of The Coterie Theatr, J. Robert Schraederf/The Coterie Theatre and Bob Evans

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