‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show’ at Imagination Stage is a magical delight

Stunning visuals, gorgeous puppetry, and a skilled ensemble bring Eric Carle’s stories to vivid life.

With a four-year-old, Eric Carle’s colorful stories are a staple in my home, with Brown Bear, Brown Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar as particular favorites. The vibrant illustrations, animated animals, and simple but powerful stories are ideal for young children. As is The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at Imagination Stage, bringing the pages from two to three dimensions with eye-catching puppets in a beautiful, vivid environment.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show (created by Jonathan Rockefeller) has been performed worldwide and returns to Imagination Stage after a 2019 sold-out run, now as part of its “Greatest Hits” series. The show depicts the stories of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Busy Spider, 10 Little Rubber Ducks, and the titular Very Hungry Caterpillar. Actor/puppeteers Jordan Essex, Irene Hamilton, and Andrés F. Roa bring the perfect storytelling energy for the young audience while also deftly manipulating the exquisite puppets.

The very hungry caterpillar becomes a butterfly in ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.’ © Photo by Margot Schulman.

The show boasts over 75 puppets, and each looks like it’s pulled directly from the storybook pages. The prismatic puppets absolutely dazzled my four-year-old daughter; her eyes were wide, her face filled with surprise, and she hopped up and down in her seat with energetic glee for the entire 45-minute-long performance. Her review of the show included frequent whispered asides of “Wow!” “Look at that!” “So cool!” “I love that!” “Beautiful!”

The show’s slow and deliberate pace gave each of the showstopping puppets enough time on stage for the audience to revel in its presence. And in our fast-paced technology-filled world, it was fantastic to see a room full of children held in rapt attention by theater magic. Director Kathryn Chase Bryer and this fabulous ensemble made the striking animal puppets feel nearly real and effectively showcased with the puppets the joy found in reading Carle’s books.

Highlights include the red bird flying over the audience, eliciting squeals of joy from the children; the menagerie of different animals that surprised us during 10 Little Rubber Ducks; and, of course, the namesake caterpillar’s spectacular metamorphosis. My kid’s favorite? “When the caterpillar got realllllly big.”

TOP LEFT: Jordan Essex brings one of Eric Carle’s animal characters to life; TOP RIGHT: Jordan Essex and Andrés F. Roa bring ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See’ to life; ABOVE LEFT: Andrés F. Roa, Irene Hamilton, and Jordan Essex; ABOVE RIGHT: The very hungry caterpillar eats through five apples in ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show.’ Photos provided by Imagination Stage except above right © by Margot Schulman.

The white set soaked up the colors of the rainbow of lights (with lighting designed aptly by Jason Arnold). The puppets caught the light beautifully, and the performers in all-white also shifted from color to color as the lights changed. The whimsical music and joyful sound design (by Robert Pike) were integral to the magic and wonder of the experience.

This show wowed my daughter (and me), held her attention for the entire time, and offered one of the most magical theater experiences I could possibly imagine for my young child and me to share.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show plays until October 22, 2023, in Imagination Stage’s Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre. Shows for the general public are on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 1:00. Tickets are $12 and up and may be purchased online, in person at Imagination Stage’s box office, or via phone at 301-280-1660. Group rates are available for parties of 10+.

The program for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is online here.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show
Created by Jonathan Rockefeller, based on Eric Carle’s books. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. The cast includes puppeteers Jordan Essex, Irene Hamilton, and Andrés Roa; the Lighting Designer is Jason Arnold and the Sound Designer is Robert Pike. Samantha Leahan is Stage Manager, Luna Hernández is Spanish Language Dialect Coach, and Matthew Pauli is Puppet Consultant.


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