On Stage: “Water for Elephants”

Water for Elephants

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Broadway’s new musical “Water for Elephants” is great, exuberant family fun!

Adapted from Sara Gruen’s best-selling 2006 novel, it revolves around the reminiscences of elderly Jake Jankowski, (Greg Edelman), who sneaks out of his dreary assisted living facility to visit a nearby traveling circus.

Back in the 1930s Depression era, young Jacob (Grant Gustin), having almost graduated from veterinary school, hops aboard a circus train transporting the “Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.”

When he advises Marlena (Isabelle McCalla) about her ailing white stallion Silver Star, it’s love at first sight. But Marlena’s married to cruel ringmaster-owner August (Paul Alexander Nolan), so there’s bound to be trouble.

So much for melodrama. Far more impressive is the enchanting fantasy adventure that erupts when Rosie, an abused, abandoned elephant, arrives and Jacob discovers that she understands commands only when they’re spoken in Polish.

Working with a book by Rick Elise (“Peter and the Starcatcher”), folkloric yet forgettable songs by the seven-member collective PigPen Theatre Co, choreography by circus expert Shana Carroll and Jesse Robb, director Jessica Stone (“Kimberly Akimbo”) showcases members of the Montreal Cirque Troup 7 Fingers whose exuberant acrobatics dazzle and delight.

Puppetry by Ray Wetmore, JR Goodman and Camille Labarre evokes the various animals cavorting around Takeshi Kata’s imaginative set. There are thrilling aerial routines on ropes with silks, hoops and snaps, along with tumbling, juggling, knife throwing and a Cyr wheel — creating a visual marvel!

Adding to the engaging Big Top effects are David Israel Reynoso’s costumes, Walter Trarbach’s sound design, Bradley King’s strobe lighting and David Bergali’s mood-setting projections. Too bad the so-called ‘clown’ interlude is decidedly clunky.

FYI: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz starred in the 2011 movie version, streaming on Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu.


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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