Pushcart Players, New Jersey’s Emmy-nominated and award-winning touring theater for family audiences launches the 2023-24 season of productions and educational programs. Founded in 1974, Pushcart will be celebrating 50 years of stirring up serious fun for young people nationwide.
“We are extremely grateful to have returned to live engagement with our audiences,” said Paul Whelihan, producing artistic director. “After that ‘pause in life’ we all experienced, we’re particularly enthused about our new season; both in content and in casting, we offer a wonderful reflection of not only who we are as artists, but of whom our audiences are, and what their needs as arts learners are.”
The season begins with the public performance of “Peter and the Wolf” at the Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, NJ on September 16. This tantalizing version of the classic Russian folktale brings together all the elements of growing up: daring, defiance, confidence, and courage. “Peter…” is an enchanting production set to the resplendent music by composer Sergei Prokofiev. Each character is represented by a different musical motif in this story of a spirited young boy who confronts the dangers of the forest with bravery, creativity, and leadership.
“Cuentos del Árbol” (“Tree Tales”) is a bilingual musical drawn from Spanish and Latin American folklore. Opening to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15), the play brings the Spanish language to life, as well as knowledge and appreciation of Hispanic culture and traditions. The centerpiece of all the tales is a tree (un Árbol) that has sheltered, shielded and nurtured countless characters who passed her way over the years. The tree’s caretaker, Árbolita, shares three of these stories with Tomás, a storyteller who is looking for tales for his collection.
In October, Pushcart presents the premier of “Outta’ This World: The Adventures of Kalien the Alien,” the story of a young accidental visitor to Earth from another planet. Seeking help at the local elementary school, Kalien interacts, sometimes comically, with their Earthling contemporaries. Throughout one magical day, our alien learns — and teaches — about acceptance, anti-bullying, and enjoyment! Social-emotional development and poignant understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion come to life for Pushcart’s very young learners. Based on the song of the same title by children’s pop music icon, mr. RAY (Ray Andersen), the production supports pathways to learning in music appreciation and science as well.
Pushcart celebrates the winter season with “Holiday Tales – A Season of Miracles,” a sparkling multicultural collection of holiday stories celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah. Scenes within the play are O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker,” “The Kwanzaa Kite,” an original tale set in Nigeria, and a story from Chelm, “The Chanukah Miracle.” Crafted and set to music by Tony Award-winner Larry Hochman, with the timeless tone of each classic piece, this magical presentation is designed to warm the hearts, and perhaps change the perspectives, of young audiences as they think about the true meaning and spirit of the holiday season.
“Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor” reopens in February of 2024 to coincide with Black History Month and runs throughout the school year. A new play by NJ playwright, TyLie Shider, “….Voice…” is a multimedia piece exploring the music, images, and spirit of mid-century America, while celebrating the courage and resilience of everyday Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. The story centers on Junebug, a 12-year-old boy in the 1960’s South, who learns of James Meredith’s attempt to enroll as the first African American at the University of Mississippi. When the editor of “The Oxford Eagle,” a local newspaper, expresses her negative opinions on integration, Junebug takes matters into his own hands and confronts these views, speaking out for equality and inclusion.
For Anti-Bullying Month (March), Pushcart presents “Velveteen Rabbit” with book by Paul Whelihan, music and lyrics by Paul Farinella, and orchestrations by Larry Hochman. A young boy’s love and a little nursery magic help transform the Velveteen Rabbit from a favorite plaything into a real rabbit. The Boy and Velveteen embark on exciting imaginary adventures, from deep dark caves to the wide open sea, and together they learn the true meaning of friendship in this musical re-telling of one of America’s favorite storybooks.
“Stone Soup…and other stories” is Pushcart Players’ perennial favorite, now in its 30th year in the repertoire, and plays throughout the entire season. Pushcart takes audiences on a journey around the world to discover the joy of reading, and the importance of acceptance, sharing, and fellowship. This charming musical compilation of favorite stories from Africa, India, Eastern Europe, and the United States of America is filled with music, fantasy, and play, with each tale introducing the spirit and customs of these unique cultures. Dynamic, participatory and filled with zesty entertainment, “Stone Soup…” is on the gourmet “not to be missed” list for young viewers!
Throughout the season, Pushcart Players presents “mr. RAY” in concerts and classroom presentations for very young viewers. His interactive shows feature his original songs, with messages of kindness, diversity, being creative, and staying healthy & active. He sings children’s classics like “Five Little Monkeys,” and family songs by The Beatles, Bob Marley, and many more.
“Storytelling with Gerald Fierst” is also available year-long. Gerry Fierst offers “Tales from Around the World,” participatory stories of laughter, drama, and surprise from a multicultural world. Designed for elementary school audiences, this collection of folklore, literature, and original materials stresses that all of us have stories to tell. Fierst, a world-renown storyteller, tailors his presentation to the cultural and social interests of the audiences he visits.
Pushcart Players provides professional theater workshops, classes, and residencies for pre-k to grade 8. Young actors develop an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the arts, lifelong learning, and full participation in and support of the arts.
“Drama Workshops” are designed to thematically meet the specific needs and interests of all students. Curriculums consist of theater exercises and games, storytelling activities, and improvisation to build confidence, promote self-awareness and team building.
“Pushcart Junior” is an after school and camp program where young performers learn all about theater by doing it! Pushcart scripts are adapted for large casts of any size as well as junior versions of Broadway shows and well known titles. “Pushcart Junior” is guided by professional directors and teaching artists. The program ranges from 6-8 weeks and is adaptable to most school or camp schedules.
Pushcart Players is the award-winning professional touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy©, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people and their families in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 6.5 million miles nationally and abroad, from the rural red schoolhouse to the White House.
Pushcart Players addresses social studies, literature, history, special educational needs, social-emotional learning, equity, diversity, accessibility, inclusion, and values clarification for young people, their families, and their educators. All performances by professional artists (Actors’ Equity Association) are supported by study guides, post-performance assessments and other supplemental materials. Pushcart adapts to any location with innovative scenery, lighting, and sound systems.
For further information on this or any Pushcart Players program, call 973-857-1115, visit the website www.pushcartplayers.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For tickets to “Peter and the Wolf” on September 16 at s:00 pm, visit: www.roxbury-arts-alliance.ticketleap.com/peter–the-wolf/ Citizens Bank Theater is at 72 Eyeland Succasunna NJ. (973-945-0284).
As a social-profit organization, Pushcart Players’ programs are made possible in part by NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State, NJ State Bar Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, ADP Foundation, The Community Foundation of NJ, EJ Grassmann Trust, The Grunin Foundation, Hyde & Watson Foundation, The Montclair Foundation, Newark Arts, PNC Bank/Lillian Schenck Foundation, The Sosland Foundation, Turrell Fund, The Whitehill Foundation, and numerous individual contributors.
PHOTO CREDIT: Thierry Donaus