This past Friday evening, Valley Youth Theatre opened its doors to the company’s 23rd production of the musical adventure A Winnie The Pooh Christmas Tail. Fifteen local performers, all under eighteen, star in what has become Phoenix’s perennial holiday favorite.
Speaking to VYT’s Producing Artistic Director, Bobb Cooper, when asked why does VYT return to author A.A. Milne’s beloved characters every holiday season, he replied, “The reason we continue to present this special story, year after year, is that it has become a holiday favorite in Phoenix. And because it appeals to all people of all ages, parents bring their children to this show to introduce them to live theatre and to create or carry on family traditions. In fact, because we have produced this wonderful musical for so many years, we now see many of our former cast members bringing their children – and even their grandchildren – to see what they were a part of as a child.”
Sponsored by Dan and Ann Nahom and sponsored in part by Sherman & Howard, the theatre is transformed into a winter wonderland. It’s Christmas Eve, and Eyeore is feeling down. Of course, he always feels down, but on this Christmas Eve things are worse. He’s lost his tail. One day it was there, the next, gone. His best friends, the ever-friendly and always willing to help, Pooh Bear and the devoted Piglet decide to help while enlisting the aid of a take-charge Rabbit, the ever bouncy Tigger, loving mother Kanga, her little Roo, and the young boy whose imagination gives life to all of his favorite nursery room characters, Christopher Robin. Owl will later become involved, but at this point in the mystery we really shouldn’t give too much away.
At what point did he decide that the show would become a yearly tradition? From the beginning?
Bobb: “I knew the show would be a perennial hit in 1996, my first year with VYT. That’s when I saw how accepted and loved this production was here, in the Valley.”
What does he think is the reason behind the continuing appeal of this particular musical adventure?
Bobb: “I think the continuing appeal of this show is, first, the universal appeal of the songs and story. Everyone from babies to great-grandparents enjoy the way this particular show makes them feel and how it truly celebrates the spirit of the holidays. Next, the characters. For a hundred years, Milne’s Hundred-Acre friends have been beloved around the world. In fact, I recently saw Disney’s Christopher Robin and fell in love with them, all over again.”
And finally, when casting each new production, what qualities does he look for in the youth actor who will play Pooh?
Bobb: “Oriana Valcamp is reprising the role of Winnie-the-Pooh for the second year in a row. She has that one special something that all of our Winnie-the-Poohs have possessed, a heart for the character, the story, and the audience.”
Both fifteen-year-old Prescott Smidt (Christopher Robin) and sixteen-year-old Oriana Valcamp (Winnie-the-Pooh) reprise their roles from last season. Prescott is a Freshman at Arizona School for the Arts and has appeared in three previous VYT productions. Oriana is a Junior at Arcadia High School and has been involved in as many as seven previous VYT productions. Both have appeared on stage and worked on the technical crew.
Other cast members, all between the age of seven and seventeen include Elizabeth Evans (Roo), MaKenna Jacobs (Kanga), Nathaniel McNamara (Rabbit), Vivian Paige Nichols (Piglet), Brooke Nielsen (Owl), Carson Roubison (Tigger), Samantha Stinnett (Eeyore) and six Woodland Friends.
Former cast members of this production include now-famous actors Emma Stone (Eeyeore and Rabbit) and Kimiko Glenn (Piglet and Rabbit).
The production is directed and choreographed by former VYT member, Ashley Stults. Music is directed by Tristan Peterson-Steinert and has been reworked to include guitars and drums for the first time. Sound design is provided by Brian Honsberger, costume design by Karol Cooper, lighting and scenic design by Bobb Cooper, who also produced the show, and the Production Stage Manager is Joycelin Jacobs-Schwartz.
“As we celebrate our 30th Season,” concludes Bobb, “I can’t think of a better way to honor what VYT brings to the Valley than this ongoing lesson of love.”
A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail performs now until December 23 at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street in Phoenix
For tickets and more information CLICK HERE for the official VYT website