Puppets, black light and Eric Carle at ImaginOn

Children’s Theatre of Chalrotte

How wonderful to attend a piece of theater for preschoolers that opens with the words, “This is a non-shushing show.” That warm welcome encourages kids to “Ooh” and “Aah,” as images from picture books float and glide against a black-curtained stage.

Despite many high-tech alternatives, this production’s enthusiastic audience is evidence that books and puppetry still thrive as entertainment choices. The puppetry is astonishing.

Eric Carle has illustrated more than 70 books; the most popular, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” – has sold over 38 million copies. Nova Scotia’s Mermaid Theatre treats his work with simple complexity.

Simple, because the characters are puppet replicas of Carle’s familiar, brilliant-colored creatures. Complex because the puppetry is enhanced by black light and so well done there is zero evidence of a human component until the play is concluded and the puppeteers reveal themselves.

Carle is a delightful storyteller whose work revels in nature. He doesn’t preach; he shows. The opening work is “The Little Cloud,” which wafts above a picturesque village of red-roofed houses and conical trees.

The plot? The cloud changes shapes. It floats up and down, it gains mass and breadth, and sometimes it looks familiar. When it does, that non-shushing rule comes in handy. As a bonus lesson, the story concludes with an explanation of why clouds exist.

Next is “The Mixed-Up Chameleon.” The whimsical little character moves from leaf to flower, taking the color of each. When he encounters a zoo full of exotic animals, he becomes envious, and he loses himself when he tries to copy them. The story is a primer on differentiating features. A parade of animals leap, fly and lumber through the air, giving the kids a chance to test their zoological identification skills.

The hero of “The Hungry Little Caterpillar,” flexible as an accordion, is giggle-inducing as it chomps its way to maturation. The perfect bites taken from each piece of fruit fall away in a satisfying optical mystery. This is a science lesson masked as a banquet. The kids are enchanted when the caterpillar achieves its ultimate metamorphosis.

Jim Morrow adapted, designed and directed the production, which is performed by puppeteers Jackson Fowlow and Graeme Black Robinson, with assistance by stage manager Christine Oakey. The show is followed by a Q&A where the cast reveals backstage wizardry. It is fascinating, but I’d just as soon leave the magic unexplained.


‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites’

Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia does a collection of work for preschoolers through Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

WHEN: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: McColl Family Theatre, ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.

TICKETS: $14-18.

RUNNING TIME: 60 minutes (one act).

DETAILS: 704-973-2828 or ctcharlotte.org.