Around The Town

Water for Elephants is a Creative Feat

By: Iris Wiener

April 10, 2024: Novel adaptations are hit (Wicked) or miss (The Notebook anyone?), but Water for Elephants falls somewhere in between. This show begs the question, “Can you ignore the music in a musical?” Elephants proves that you absolutely can. With the exception of PigPen Theater Co.’s meandering songs, which are frustratingly formulaic and forgettable, the show is an artistic masterpiece. Here are five reasons why:

By: Iris Wiener

April 10, 2024: Novel adaptations are hit (Wicked) or miss (The Notebook anyone?), but Water for Elephants falls somewhere in between. This show begs the question, “Can you ignore the music in a musical?” Elephants proves that you absolutely can. With the exception of PigPen Theater Co.’s meandering songs, which are frustratingly formulaic and forgettable, the show is an artistic masterpiece. Here are five reasons why:

1.    Rick Elice’s (Peter and the Starcatcher) book captures the sincerity, heart, and devastation of Sara Gruen’s hit novel. When a young man (Grant Gustin) jumps from a moving train, he finds an unexpected home with the ragtag team of a traveling circus. He finds a soul mate (Isabelle McCalla) and a new life through the help of the eclectic crew, who come alive brilliantly with the help of Elice. 

2.    Elephants’ magic exists through Ray Wetmore, Jr Goodman, and Camille LaBarre’s puppetry and artistic design. The creative team lived up to its name with their awe-inspiring menagerie at every turn. Their most intelligent pieces task the audience to use their imaginations, ie. seeing an elephant when a puppet artist operates a lone, enormous trunk or visualizing a lion with the operation of a lion head. Rosie, the elephant who finally joins the cast in all of her beatific splendor, steals the show with her flirtatious eyelashes; one can only compare their emotionality to that evoked by Milky White’s heart-tugging eyes. Transformational at every turn, the animals are their own characters with the help of their skilled operators.

3.    Shana Carroll’s circus design paired with her and Jesse Robb’s choreography, demonstrate how much the circus tricks and magic are interwoven into the traditional aspects of a big-budget Broadway musical. Aerialists, acrobats, and circus artists of the highest caliber could easily have made the show hokey; instead, they add wonder and levity through exceptional skill. One standout is Antoine Boissereau, an aerialist who portrays the soul of a horse as it is forced to be put it down. His ballet routine as he twirls from above with the use of a long piece of silk is unforgettable in the heart-tugging sequence.

4.     Jessica Stone’s direction is engaging from Elephants’ first moments. Her cast is filled with true players, who manipulate the narrator’s (Greg Edelman) reality with the ghosts from his past. Her penchant for detail can be seen in a myriad of moments, such as when the acrobats set up the circus tent for the first time, or in the orchestration of the stampeding finale. Stone’s ability to build a world with compassion while ripe with sadness (most recently witnessed with the Tony Award-winning Kimberly Akimbo) is incredibly special.

5.    While much of the cast is forgettable, Isabella McCalla’s Marlena is only upstaged by the acrobatics (though she partakes in some of her own trapeze work as well). When the circus’ top headliner rides in on her white horse, audiences know that they are in for something mesmerizing. However, it is when Marlena sings ballads such as “Easy” while she comforts her horse as he is put down, that McCalla’s (The PromAladdin) own headliner status is made apparent. This may not be her star-making vehicle (after all, Rosie is the real Broadway diva of this literally gargantuan project), but her time is coming soon.

The Cast of “Water For Elephants“.