Reviewed by Jessica Neu
I have always found the function of children’s theater to be delightfully two-fold. The first purpose is to entertain children by expanding their worldview. The second is that, despite how much the chaperones actually enjoy the production, the show’s content produces concrete examples that caregivers can reference long after the curtain call to help children navigate difficult behaviors, big emotions, or precarious situations.
This weekend, Pete the Cat, which ran at the Byham Theater, seamlessly checked both of these boxes. I have no doubt that CoComelon Live: JJ’s Journey, which plays at the Benedum Center on April 4, 2022, will achieve the same bilateral purpose.
Audience members were quickly introduced to the Biddle family, who are tasked with teaching Pete the Cat some manners after he gets caught “rocking out” after hours.
Children may have been surprised to discover that the character of Pete the Cat was played by a human dressed as a cat instead of a human in a catsuit. While this could require a suspension of disbelief not typically asked of a child, my four-year-old astutely informed me after the show that the actor was clearly Pete the Cat because he had “cat ears, a blue shirt, blue tail, and a guitar just like Pete the Cat.”
As the 50-minute show quickly moved from scene to scene and song to song, children were delighted with catchy melodies, rich harmonies, synchronized dancing along with a touch of humor to keep them enthralled the entire time. However, at the heart of the story and songs were lessons in overcoming adversity, going with the flow, being resilient, accepting change without big emotions, and making positive choices. The male child in the Biddle family, Jimmy, initially tries to declare strict rules that Pete must follow in their home but then discovers himself in trouble after he copies an art project because he is too self-conscious to create original artwork that is not “perfect,” or “the best.” Pete helps Jimmy learn how to be resilient, which we as grown-ups must remember is not innate, and also believe that his best is good enough, regardless of the aesthetic outcome. These deeply textured life lessons are both timely and timeless for any child.
Grown-ups who attended this show with children now have a myriad new examples in their arsenal to draw upon when a child becomes resistant to change, anxious, or demonstrates self-doubt. Through Pete’s flexibility, optimism, and perspective, we are reminded that minor problems can weigh heavily on children, leading them to make choices that are seemingly out of character. However, through gentle guidance and education, children can learn how to bounce back from adversity and believe that they are worthy of making the best painting (or anything) that they set their mind to because it is their work. And that is enough.
Before Pete arrived at their house, the Biddle family declared, “life is a really big adventure.” Life, undoubtedly, can be many things simultaneously, but this show reminds us that perspective is key. If we view times of both triumph and adversity, manic and mundane, as one big adventure, then just possibly, we could be a bit more accepting, a bit more imaginative, and remember to “stay cool.”
You can find more family friendly theater adventures from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust here.