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Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs: disappointing

by | Dec 3, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for The 3 Little Pigs

Tanner Zerr, Angela Chu, and Frankie Cottrell
(Photo by Tina Krueger Kulic)

Absolutely the best thing about going to a kids’ show is that you get to take a kid. My friend Mathias, who’s six, accompanied my partner and me to Carousel Theatre’s production of Stiles & Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs. Mati had never been to the theatre before and, on the ride over, he was overflowing with questions and speculation, especially about how the theatre company might show the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the little pigs’ houses. And I’ve never seen anybody have such a good time walking — well, skipping and running — through a parking garage on the way to a performance. He was pumped.

And so was I: I love introducing kids to the theatre and I was confident we were heading into a strong show. But 3 Little Pigs massively underdelivered — at least for me.

The big mistake is that Dave Deveau and Jennica Grienke, who are the co-artistic and managing directors of Carousel, have chosen an awful script.

As the story is usually told, The Three Little Pigs is about a trio of young porkers who build individual houses of straw, sticks, and bricks. When the Big Bad Wolf shows up to eat them, he can huff and puff and blow down the houses made of straw and sticks, but not the brick house. That’s it. The story takes about five minutes to tell and that’s about how much plot you get in this 49-minute production. The rest of the time is largely filled with songs but, since there’s virtually no story to advance, who cares?

Stiles and Drewe’s telling also includes clumsy wordplay, stereotyped characters, and forced moral lessons. “This place is a pigsty”, “sweating like a pig”, “hogs and kisses”: okay, “hogs and kisses” is moderately amusing, but most of the jokes are miles away from being funny. One of the pigs, Cha, is an athlete. Here, that means he’s also stupid, which is an insulting and damaging stereotype. Cha’s brother Bao reads books, which automatically makes him superior: he’s the one who builds the brick house. And the writers’ presentation of Cha and Bao’s sister Siu is a glaring example of their half-baked thinking. Siu uses straw to build her house because she’s an environmentalist, but that environmentally sound dwelling can’t withstand the Wolf’s lung power — although real-life straw-bale houses are sturdy.

Looking around for something meaningful to say, the writers settle on the theme of cooperation which, in kids’ theatre, is low-hanging fruit. Cha, Bao, and Siu — they’re named after pork-themed Chinese dishes — decide to set a trap for the Wolf, but that trap doesn’t really work. Eventually, the piglets are forced to live together, without thoroughly exploring the value of their differences, which doesn’t look much like cooperation to me.

There is no substance. Zero depth.

Fortunately, there are a couple of strong performances in this production, which was directed by Chris Lam. Kamyar Pazandeh shares his operatic voice and comic chops as an insinuatingly charming Wolf. Steffanie Davis, who’s playing the mama pig, also delivers a wittily savvy characterization and powerhouse singing, just as she did as the Killer Queen in We Will Rock You at Theatre Under the Stars this summer.

As the brothers, Tanner Zerr (Bao) and Frankie Cottrell (Cha) are in good voice and deliver solid characterizations. Angela Chu (Siu) has more trouble keeping up with musical theatre’s demands regarding singing and dancing.

The blowing down of the houses could not be less exciting than it is in Ariel Slack’s set design: small flats made to look sort of like straw and sticks just fall over. The brick house has a door, but it doesn’t work.

After the show, I asked Mathias how he liked it. His answer: “I got a nosebleed.” Later, he said he thought the show was “good”, but I’m pretty sure he was being polite.

STILES & DREWE’S THE 3 LITTLE PIGS by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Directed by Chris Lam. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production at Waterfront Theatre on Friday, December 2. Continues until December 30. Tickets and information

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