Part of living in NYC means navigating the holidays precariously toeing the line between time-honored traditions and tourist traps. You won’t find many true New Yorkers braving the cold and the crowds at the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. March up Fifth Avenue on a weekend looking for New Yorkers, and you will never find one. (They know to wait for the out-of-towners to go to sleep before they make the pilgrimage.) Any New Yorkers lining up for The Christmas Spectacular? Nope. Tea with Eloise at the Plaza? No way. Where are they all? Over the weekend, my 7-year-old son and I found them…they’re watching Peter & the Wolf at the Guggenheim.
For the past 10 years, Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer, TV presenter, Project Runway judge, author and a master of quips has been narrating and (since 2013) directing, a production of the beloved fable. The Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Guggenheim is an intimate setting of light and ivory, like being encased in an oyster shell. Instead of the polished pearl of a show you might expect on Broadway, this has a bit more edge. The musicians stroll in slowly, and start warming up their instruments seemingly haphazardly while the audience finds their seats. We sat next to the string section behind the conductor. As new instruments started playing, my son and I swerved our heads around the room for an aural version of “I Spy.” On stage, a giant garbage can, chainlink fence, enormous tree and NYC skyline represented Central Park. An actress playing the bird perched in the tree, and then the wolf took a seat on the park bench to read the newspaper before the show started.
With so much hubbub, my son wondered how we’d know when the show was actually starting. When Isaac Mizrahi appeared onstage, of course. The audience cheered wildly, because really, Mizrahi really should be considered a national treasure. And then he launched in, putting his spin on the classic tale.
The music was originally written in 1936 by Sergei Prokofiev, who was commissioned to create music for children that would “introduce the instruments and sounds of the orchestra.” Peter is portrayed by the strings; Duck by the oboe; Cat by the clarinet; and the Wolf by the French horn. My son was already familiar with the score from the 2006 Oscar-winning animated short, which featured the same music in a darker experience. In Mizrahi’s lighthearted version, Peter sports a helicopter beanie, the duck wears a cardigan sweater with a tutu, the bird prances about in gym shorts, and the roly poly huntsman looks like an overgrown Boy Scout with a toy gun. The fun narration includes banter with the conductor, talking directly to the audience, and a running gag about the seemingly senile grandfather.
Our favorite character was the long limbed cat who prowled and pranced onstage, licking her long limbs and coughing up hairballs. The silly ill-fated duck was also a standout, as she danced on pointe. The best part of the play (according to all the kids on the audience) was after the duck was eaten by the wolf offstage followed by a next-level belch. Although my son predicted the wolf was going to bite Peter, the sly villain was successfully tied up and hauled away “to the Bronx Zoo.” The simple tale was full of surprises, and, although not holiday themed, was the perfect recipe for good tidings and cheer.
Unlike other long-winded holiday traditions, this one has a runtime of only about 40 minutes (because real New Yorkers are busy and have things to do!), so you may have the time afterwards to walk around the Guggenheim spiral, where kids under 12 are always free, or eat from the young artist kids’ menu at The Wright restaurant.
Peter & the Wolf, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Peter B. Lewis Theater, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York. Enter via the ramp at 88th St and 5th Ave. Recommended for children 5 and up.