Life of Pi Comes to Broadway
A boy and a tiger in a lifeboat sail onto Broadway.
In 2012, the movie Life of Pi won numerous Oscars, and director Ang Lee was hailed as brilliant for the vision he had for the film.
Now, you can see the movie brought to life on a Broadway stage, and actually witness a shipwrecked young man at sea who drifts for days, weeks and months along with a stranded Bengal tiger.
Having loved the film, I was intrigued to see how the storm, the ocean, the animals and most interesting of all to me, the tiger would be depicted. I was not disappointed.
The story is told using the convention of flashback as we meet Pi in a Mexican hospital after he has been rescued at sea. He is the sole survivor of the sinking of a ship, and investigators come to his hospital room to uncover the circumstances that caused this tragedy.
Clearly traumatized, as Pi is coaxed into telling his story, the scene shifts from a sterile hospital room to a zoo in Pondicherry, India. Pi’s family owns the zoo, and a Bengal tiger has just arrived with the expectation that this new addition will incite ticket sales. Soon, the family decides to sell the zoo and leave for Canada to start a new life. Boarding a cargo ship,they take their animals with them, but their plan to arrive in a new land is not to be. A terrible storm takes everyone’s life, except for Pi, who is thrown into the water and on a lifeboat. The animals have been freed from their crates, and they make it on board.
The action of a shipwreck and the swirling terrifying sea is inventively crafted using exceptional lighting design by Tim Lutkin, sound by Carolyn Downing, music composed by Andrew T. Mackay, and set design by Tim Hatley.
And then there are the stars of the show. The incredible puppets. The tiger, who is named Richard Parker, is simply magnificent. He comes to life, thanks to the brilliant puppeteers who handle him and execute each amazing feline movement.
The puppets are designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, with puppetry and movement direction by Finn Caldwell.
I was fascinated to see every gesture so well choreographed.
Life of Pi highlights themes of love and spirituality, trust and faith. When Pi and Richard Parker are left alone on the lifeboat, both starving and dehydrated, it becomes a battle for survival, and eventually a truce is formed, where they come together in cooperation. Pi begins to see Richard Parker not as an enemy, but as a companion whom he learns to love.
The puppeteers are just amazing, and their roles are physically demanding. The tiger has three handlers, with one in the middle who crouches the entire time on stage. I learned that there are physical therapists on call for the cast. Clearly a necessity for this production.
I saw Life of Pi on a Tuesday night, when the role of Pi is played by Adi Dixit, who did a fabulous job.
I must say, I was quite astonished by the number of small children in the audience. “Perhaps their parents thought that the presence of puppets was suitable for children”, my friend who accompanied me surmised. Umm…no…we both agreed.
This is not a play for kids, as there are quite violent incidents that are depicted. Life of Pi is about survival and doing what must be done to stay alive. That is generally not pretty business.
From the marketplace to the zoo to the cargo ship to the lifeboat and sea animals, this Olivier Award winning play is simply visually stunning. The sound, lighting and puppets are so intricately crafted that you are carried away.
Life of Pi is a masterful production, beautifully directed by Max Webster. And by the end of the show, I, too, was in love with Richard Parker. https://lifeofpibway.com/
Valerie Smaldone is a 5-time Billboard Magazine Award winner and is well known for her unprecedented success holding the #1 on-air position in the New York radio market on 106.7 Life-FM, an iHeart station. She has hosted, produced, and created several award-winning nationally syndicated programs featuring in-depth interviews with stars like Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Mariah Carey among others. Her radio talk show "Bagels and Broadway" highlighted theatre and food personalities. She is an accomplished interviewer and voice artist heard on commercials, narrations, promos and audiobooks, as well as a sought after live announcer.
Most recently, Valerie produced and directed a film, The Thursday Night Club, featuring pop diva Gloria Gaynor in her movie acting debut. She is one of the creators and producers of a docu-series, Divine Renovation, starring Erik Estrada, on streaming networks soon.