Winne the Pooh has been charming children of all ages for nearly 100 years, and now the gentle, honey-craving bear gets a fresh take in a new production that opens on March 15 at the Mercury Theater. And this is a must-see musical in Chicago for families.
Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation comes to the Windy City for 13 weeks after a successful autumn run in New York, where it garnered rave reviews (“must-see,” “enchanting,” “magical” and “sweet as honey” are just a few of the many accolades) and broke records for advance ticket sales.
Life-size puppets of Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Owl and Tigger – along with their human friend, Christopher Robin — roam the Hundred Acre Wood over the course of four seasons having adventures, singing songs and learning life lessons in the one-hour show.
The play is the brainchild of Jonathan Rockefeller, who is known for other beloved family productions like The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, Paddington Gets in a Jam, and the recent holiday stream, Paddington Saves Christmas.
A beautiful, heartwarming tale for the child in each of us
“Winnie goes through a series of mini adventures,” Rockefeller explained while taking a break from auditioning actors for the Chicago production. (It’s a tall order — each performer must not only excel at acting and singing, but also be athletic enough to maneuver their giant puppet characters around the stage.) He was liking what he’d seen in the local talent pool so far. “There is such amazing talent in Chicago, especially with puppetry. Many of these performers haven’t been on the stage for a while (due to the pandemic), and now the fog is lifting.”
Audience members are charmed and entertained by the show’s whimsy and positive lessons. “Each story impacts the fundamental values of Winnie: friendship, looking after each other, knowing that we are all different and that’s OK, that we can learn to live with and appreciate each other. That is the message that is so wonderful, and it’s told with a whole bunch of silliness — and a little bit of naughtiness. We don’t believe in talking down to children; everything we do is to keep the show accessible and enjoyable at every level, no matter what age,” Rockefeller says.
Though it’s billed as a children’s production, Rockefeller maintains that the musical appeals to everyone. “It is not just for kids,” he says. “In New York, we very much saw family groups of all ages coming in and people coming in with no children,” he says. “It’s really for all ages. Our demographic is that we aim for children and the children inside all of us.”
Show runs March 15-June 12
A.A. Milne first introduced Winnie the Pooh in 1925 in books that have sold more than 50 million copies. Walt Disney acquired rights to the character in 1951.
Strict protocols at the Mercury Theater will be enacted to help keep audiences safe from COVID-19 exposure. All patrons must wear a mask and everyone ages 12 and up is required to show proof of vaccination. Children ages 5-12 will be admitted with one vaccine that was administered at least 14 days before the performance. Those under age 5 must have proof of a COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours, or a negative antigen test taken within six hours.
“We opened in New York right after the height of the Delta variant,” Rockefeller notes, “and we have always ensured that people can come with the confidence of knowing we are looking after your health.”
The show runs in Chicago on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 12, heads back to New York City for six weeks over the summer, and then is off again to an as-yet disclosed location.
“Winnie is slowly making his way across the USA,” says Rockefeller. “He is timeless and we all see ourselves in these characters. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming tale – and we all need a big hug after what we’ve been through.”
Visit winniethepoohshow.com for more information and tickets.