Curriculum connections: Storytelling, Language Arts, Emotional and Social Development
Grades PreK- 3
The Rainbow Fish is the most beautiful creature in the ocean. When the other fish ask her to share her pretty silver scales, will she sacrifice the one thing that makes her unique in order to share her gifts with those around her? This delightful musical is based on the best-seller about the value of true friendship.
How It Came to Be
"We were looking for a story with a moral theme for young people," says founding co-director Gary Blackman about ArtsPower National Touring Theatre's interest in Marcus Pfister's popular work The Rainbow Fish. And while we at were certainly drawn in by the lessons this tale teaches, we found that such themes became especially compelling when coupled with the book's distinctive illustrations. In fact, the pictures in The Rainbow Fish in large part determined the highly-visual nature of its stage adaptation. Many of our backdrops come directly from the pages of the book. Yet at the same time – since Pfister's charming story is a short and deceptively simple one – to flesh out our hour-long performance, we added scenes and characters not found in the original. We built a 1950’s malt shop complete with a singing greaser shark, a playground set, and a "Hollywood Under the Sea" movie marquis. Authenticity and inventiveness are carefully balanced.
One of the biggest challenges was sustaining the illusion of an aquatic environment without dressing the actors in fish costumes! The solution offered by Greg Gunning, the writer and lyricist as well as ArtsPower Artistic Director, was simple, yet incredibly effective: We decided to set up a magical mirror; anyone who looks into the mirror and repeats a chant (guided by the Narrator) can see exactly what the fish world sees. Occasional glances through the mirror at more elaborate sets help viewers to imagine the entire production taking place underwater. What's more, the mirror reinforces the Rainbow Fish's major character flaw: her vanity. This device is very popular with young audiences, who always get a thrill out of seeing the Magic Mirror reveal each new undersea character as well as chanting along with the Narrator in order to enter the fish world again..
(More About) the Set and the Music
We fashioned piscine costumes with the help of colorful lightweight material: iridescent and semi-translucent, this cloth shines particularly bright on the beautiful Rainbow Fish. Her special scales are rendered as glittering strips of fabric that can – when the Rainbow Fish finally learns generosity – be detached and tied around the wrists of other actors and actresses. The show as a whole has a strong visual appeal and combines faithfulness to the printed page with highly creative artistic license.
When it came to music for The Rainbow Fish, Greg Gunning drew inspiration from one of his favorite shows: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Richard DeRosa’s fully-orchestrated score is constantly changing and evolving, as fluid as the actors' flowing costumes. With complex choreography and very few non-singing scenes, this production runs the gamut from calypso to 1950s swing to gospel to east Indian. A highly-singable Broadway feel holds the whole production together.
Intended for kindergarten through second grade, The Rainbow Fish may not seem particularly sophisticated in its plotting: a self-centered character comes to recognize the value of sharing with others. But there are more complex issues of identity involved. It is not talents or possessions that the Rainbow Fish must share; she must learn to give of herself. She eventually recognizes that her shiny scales are indeed quite special, and that she herself is a special creature, but also sees that her external traits are not what will bring friends close to her. She instead lets go of part of herself as she allows others to take the silver scales, and in so doing proves that her innermost identity is even more beautiful than her outward appearance. Looking into the mirror, she sees that she is at her best when surrounded by those who love her. Paradoxically, it is by making certain crucial sacrifices – giving up the safety of isolation and total self-absorption – that she becomes happy and whole.