Vibrant color and puppets galore depict a caterpillar who undergoes a magical transformation, a lonely firefly who learns to shine his light by finding friends and much more. That’s what audiences will experience March 17-April 21 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix when Childsplay stages the Arizona premiere of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.”
Created by Jonathan Rockefeller and based on the popular picture books of Eric Carle, the show opened in New York in 2016, then returned in 2017 and 2018, and has toured the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia. This year, the show also celebrates the 50th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” which has been translated into many different languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Other titles in the show include “10 Little Rubber Ducks” and “The Very Lonely Firefly,” both written and illustrated by Carle, and one written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Carle: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
Acting as storytellers and puppeteers for all 75 of the show’s puppets, which closely resemble Carle’s classic illustrations, are longtime Childsplay actors Debra K. Stevens, Katie McFadzen and Jon Gentry.
They each have their own favorites. For McFadzen, it’s a tie between the rubber ducks in “10 Little Rubber Ducks” and the big, fat caterpillar in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
“The rubber ducks are just so cute and look so small and helpless floating in the big sea,” McFadzen says, adding she considers the caterpillar a great surprise. “It’s really fun to watch him crawl, expertly manipulated by Jon Gentry.”
Gentry enjoys the white dog puppet most, and Stevens is rather fond of the sheep. “It has such a cute face, I can’t take my eyes off it,” she says, adding she also likes the dolphin. “I love dolphins anyway, “but the way the puppet is constructed in the ‘leaping out of the water’ shape is really cool. Don’t blink — you will miss it!”
Directing “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is Dwayne Hartford, Childplay’s artistic director. Korbi Adams, Childsplay’s director of education and school programs, says Carle’s art and stories continue to be captivating to all ages.
“One of the things that is so important to Childsplay is that young people deserve to experience the highest quality art. And Eric Carle understands that,” Adams says. She finds the sheer beauty of his artwork inspiring, and says “the use of language and the cadence of the stories are beautifully simple and rhythmic.”
Every story has an aspect of deep human experiences and emotions, Adams adds, but put in a way that is accessible for young people.
No doubt “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show” will captivate theatergoers of all ages, especially those who grew up reading Carle’s books or those who have read them to their children.
“What I hope that audiences take away from the show is the simplistic joy of these stories — the joy of seeing these well-known stories come off the page and on the stage,” McFadzen says.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show” is recommended for ages 3 and up.