Sunday, April 15, 2012

Off Broadway: The Butterfly: A Family Musical

Three generations of our family – my wife and myself, our daughter Laurie (an English teacher and published author of children’s books in her own right), and our 11 year old granddaughter Naomi –attended the opening performance of the off Broadway premiere of The Butterfly at Theater 3 on West 43rd Street today.  And we’re all glad that we did.

Based on the book of the same name written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, The Butterfly relates the story of two young girls who become friends in 1942 in Nazi-occupied France.  Sevrine, a young Jewish girl (Carly Paige Baron) and her father Walter (Greg Roderick) have been provided refuge in the attic of Marcelle (Maree Johnson), a Catholic member of the French Resistance, when Sevrine is discovered by Marcelle’s young daughter Monique (Courtney Shaw).  Sevrine and Monique realize that despite the difference in their religious backgrounds, what they have in common vastly outweighs their differences and they become as close as sisters, with Monique ultimately assisting Sevrine and Walter to escape to freedom in Switzerland.

The play’s other characters include Henri (Alex Goley), Monique’s young neighbor who has been misled into joining the Nazi youth corps in France after the death of his father and who has been brainwashed into believing that the Jews, rather than the Nazis, were responsible for his father’s death; Monsieur Marks (John Little), a Jewish candy shop owner and Monique’s friend, whose life is also at risk in Nazi-occupied France; Pere Voulliard, a Catholic priest and active member of the French Resistance (who also is played by John Little); and two other Nazi soldiers (also played by Greg Roderick and John Little).

The Butterfly was originally produced by Making Books Sing (MBS) at select venues in all five boroughs of New York in 2008 and is now receiving its off Broadway premiere – the first such revival by MBS in its 22 year history.  Founded by Barbara Zinn Krieger, who wrote the book and lyrics for this production and is MBS’s Artistic Director, MBS is a non-profit company that promotes children’s literacy through arts-in-education programs and theatrical productions.

This production is professional and inspiring, delivering important messages both for children and adults regarding discrimination, intolerance, integrity, compassion and courage and it is worth seeing.  But it does have its shortcomings.  For one thing, the play is being promoted as suitable for ages seven and up but I would question whether the subject matter really is appropriate for children as young as seven.  (To be sure, I did think it suitable for children as young as my granddaughter and there were several children younger than she in the audience who displayed no ill effects, so perhaps I’m being a bit over-protective here, but seven did strike me as too young, given the play’s context.)  I also thought that the play was a little heavy-handed in the politically correct messages it delivered, but that might be somewhat unreasonable of me: surely it was too heavy-handed for an all-adult audience but it might not have been possible to be any more subtle and nuanced in transmitting the play’s messages to its primary audience of young children.  Finally, I was not overly impressed by the play’s musical score or lyrics.

But those are small quibbles.  Krieger has done a fine job of adapting Polacco’s book to the stage, the entire cast is quite professional, and this is a worthwhile family entertainment.  It will be running through April 29 and tickets are available at

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