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'Petra' gives new twist to classic 'Peter' tale

A large-scale duck puppet interacts with Petra in “Petra and the Wolf,” which will be staged at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Sheldon Theatre. Photo courtesy of the Sheldon Theatre

"Petra and the Wolf," a modern interpretation of the classic story about a young boy and a threatening wolf, comes to the Sheldon Theatre at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1.

In this version by Lionheart Youth Theatre of Austin, Texas, the protagonist is a girl, Petra, the granddaughter of the fabled Peter.

The performance brings together three theater groups in a unique collaboration, Sheldon Executive Director Bonnie Schock said:

• Lionheart, which is known for presenting work for young audiences that celebrates the fearlessness and imagination of the next generation.

• Glass Half Full Theatre, which specializes in large-scale puppetry (including Petra's friend the duck). The company's stories are designed to travel across linguistic and cultural boundaries to the heart of the imagination.

• Mother Falcon, a critically acclaimed Austin band which performs classical-crossover pop songs. The band composed and performs original music for the production.

"Petra and the Wolf" was developed by the puppet company and played for two years in Austin before launching a national tour.

Inspired by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev's classical "Peter and the Wolf," the contemporary version introduces mischievous but fearless Petra in a new setting.

But the basic story line is familiar. "When a wolf threatens her home and animal friends, her adventures become a showcase of bravery and compassion," Sheldon spokespeople said.

"It's important for both boys and girls to see girl characters that are brave, not by replacing male stereotypes with female versions performing traditionally male actions, but by representing what it is about female bravery that makes it unique," Caroline Reck, artistic director for the puppet company, explained.

The contemporary reinterpretation "pushes at all the best edges of how children's theater is being made today," Schock said.

"One of the things that draws me to it the most, as a theater artist, is the visual storytelling. This takes that to the extreme," she added.

Schock cited the Japanese-style puppetry, which uses hooded puppeteers to manipulate the creatures as they interact with Petra to tell the story. While in town, the puppet company will be offering a workshop on object manipulation at Twin Bluff Middle School.

The live band also plays a unique role, Schock said. The musicians use natural sounds of the animals to create musical themes for each character. They employ a variety of instruments, including the autoharp and a slide guitar as well as a playful trumpet.

"Family audiences will walk away from this stunning piece of visual and musical storytelling with a new sense of empathy for the animals that share our earth," according to Sheldon publicity.

"The show was incredible... (It) was an astounding success with our audiences," said Jennifer Luck of Paramount Theatre in Austin.

"Petra and the Wolf" is best suited for children in first grade and up.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students. This is a Kids Play Free event, which means that admission is free for one child 14 and under with the purchase of an adult ticket.

Call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.

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