GLEN ECHO – Typical fare at The Puppet Co. includes classic stories, such as “Sleeping Beauty” or “Hansel and Gretel.”
Its upcoming show, however, presents a classic of more-recent vintage.
It’s “The Velveteen Rabbit.” the 1922 children’s story penned by Margaret Williams and illustrated originally by William Nicholson – though you might see it in different versions, since Williams didn’t copyright the art.
The wildly popular children’s book, about a stuffed rabbit who becomes real through the love of his owner and a dose of magic, later saw life as a musical, animated productions and board game, among other permutations.
“The story is particularly popular during the holiday season, because the boy receives a stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen as a Christmas gift,” said Allan Stevens, founding director and CEO of The Puppet Co.
The Puppet Co.’s production is part of a guest-artist program that Applause Unlimited brings to the Glen Echo Park Theater.
This show features the talents of Christopher Hudert, artistic director of Applause Unlimited, a Richmond, Virginia touring company that incorporates storytelling, clowning, stilt walking and juggling, as well as puppetry.
The show Hudert is presenting originated at his theater – created and performed by his late business partner, Terry Snyder, in 1985. It has become a classic of its own, according to Hudert.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” is one of the shows in our repertory, and one of the most popular,” he said. “Sometimes grandparents [who loved the story] bring their grandchildren. It has warmth, humor and suspense and is well paced for the family.”
Hudert uses hand puppets, storytelling and song to tell the story, which he said even young children can appreciate.
“They can identify with the love of a boy for a toy and with losses and gains in life,” he said. “The rabbit is lost in some way and becomes real in some way.”
At first the boy neglects the rabbit, in favor of his more-modern and mechanical toys. But one night, when his nana gives him the rabbit to sleep with in place of lost toy, the rabbit becomes his favorite and seems real. Eventually, the velveteen rabbit does changes into a real one and joins the other rabbits in the forest.
“This popular tale is of particular interest to youngsters learning to read, and to anyone who has ever had a favorite stuffed toy,” Stevens said.
Stevens praised Hudert for carrying on in the style of Snyder, a “charismatic performer who you could listen to reading the phone book.”
The strength in Snyder and now Hudert’s performance is “all in the details, such as his treatment of the scarlet fever the boy comes down with and the way the puppeteer as the doctor washes his hands,” Stevens said.
Aside from manipulating the puppets, Hudert operates in three modes – sometimes he’s visible as the puppeteer, sometimes he’s a character in the show, and sometimes he’s not seen at all.
“It goes back and forth,” he said.
When the puppets represent real characters, they have moving mouths. Otherwise, they don’t.
The puppeteer enhances the production with a small theatrical set and scenery changes.
So popular is puppetry these days, according to Stevens, that it enjoys a frequent presence outside puppet companies.
“There’s barely a theater that doesn’t incorporate it, including opera companies in a production of ‘The Magic Flute,’ for example,” he said.
It’s particularly gratifying, though, Hudert pointed out, when a child comes up to him and says that “the puppet is real.”
The 45-minute show is recommended for children pre-K through four. It runs Jan. 18-Feb. 10.
Next is “Rapunzel,” Feb. 14-March 24.
The Puppet Co. performs at its own theater in Glen Echo Park, located in 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. www.thepuppetco.org.