There's no shortage of great theater here in New York, but there are very few shows where children actually get to play an interactive role in the story. Enter Pip's Island, a production in which young audience members become characters—no, stars—themselves, engaging with the actors in a roving, room-to-room adventure.
After a successful trial run in 2016, the show has re-opened in a custom-built space giving Pip, his friends Finn and Pebble, and countless kids a whole new immersive environment where they can play out their adventure as they attempt to save Pip's Island from the villainous Joules Volter.
Before embarking on the hour-long journey, little explorers—the show is geared toward ages 4-10—are outfitted in special Pip's Island vests and personalized name tags. They're then given Legendariums (a.k.a., light-up bracelets), which can be used to collect a series of "sparks" throughout their journey. Each "spark" brings with it an important lesson necessary for the ultimate goal of Joules Volter's demise.
Once the adventurers have their gear, they're whisked away by a ranger—a tour guide of sorts—who leads the expedition through mystical island environments. Together, the group navigates a field filled with gemstones, Pebble's magical Cloud Rover (which requires kid-power to operate), a bakery inhabited by friendly monster-like creatures, a bubble-filled underwater wonderland, and the zenith in the island's lighthouse.
In each room, challenges await. Kids have to solve puzzles, read passages out of a guide book, and use the show's signature "actions" and teamwork to complete tasks. Along the way, the ranger is joined by Pip and Finn, while Pebble and the underwater queen Shelly also make cameos. Each room has a theme, and actors are not only polished at advancing the scripted story; they're equally adept at fielding queries from curious kiddos and incorporating their ideas into the storyline. Seeing children's faces light up when acknowledged by Pip was really the most special part of the journey for me (I was, like other parents and caregivers, dubbed an "assistant explorer" and mostly relegated to the sidelines). A few clever lines were offered here and there for the grownups, drawing laughs and keeping parents engaged. There were other times when we got a little more involved, in an underwater dance party or in helping propel Pebble's plane.
Plenty of special effects work together to give the space a truly magical feel—bubbles, fog, flashing lights, and moments of total darkness—but parents of preschoolers should take note: There are multiple times when the main lights go out, though producers seem to know just how much little kids can manage. While a few of the youngest explorers needed a hug from Mom or Dad here and there, there were no tears shed on our exhibition. The most frightening scene is the last one, when Joules Volter meets his demise, but not until after taunting the crowd a bit. And Pip and Finn are briefly struck down by his mysterious powers, which could also be a little scary.
All told, though, the message is uplifting. The storyline encourages kids to find their "inner spark," mirroring the imaginary mission on the island. It's high-fives all around when the lighthouse is saved and order is restored to the island.
Currently in previews, Pip's Island officially opens on Thursday, March 21. Shows run one hour in length and are held multiple times daily, Wednesday through Monday; the show is dark on Tuesdays. Tickets are $59 at the box office or $49 when you purchase them online here.
Photos by Paul Mariano