The Penguin(s) That Changed Lives

Luke D. White
 | Oct 10, 2016
Mr. Popper's Penguins

How Mr. Popper Got His Penguin(s)

The classic book, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” jumps from page to stage in the Theatre for Young Audiences season-opener, Nov. 4-20, 2016 (Julianne Argyros Stage).

In the town of Stillwater, at the end of a late September day in 1937, Mr. Popper is finishing up a painting job, but would rather be having an adventure in Antarctica. Mrs. Popper awaits his arrival at home, concerned about how much money they have since winter is coming and Mr.

PenguinsPopper will soon be out of painting work until the spring. When he finally arrives home, she tries to discuss the matter with him, but he would rather discuss the South Pole.

Mr. Popper suddenly remembers that, on this very evening, the famous Admiral Drake is broadcasting on the radio from his Antarctic Expedition. He tunes in just in time to hear Admiral Drake reply to a letter Mr. Popper recently sent him. Shocked and elated, Mr. and Mrs. Popper hear the admiral tell him to “watch for a surprise!”The next morning, a deliveryman arrives with a large box shipped all the way from Antarctica. Mr. Popper opens the box, revealing a real live penguin who utters an “Ork!” at him. With great curiosity, the penguin begins to explore the house, knocking some things over here and there. Mr. Popper takes the excited penguin for a stroll through the neighborhood, passing by several confused neighbors. Mrs. Popper arrives home later that day and meets the penguin, who greets her with an outstretched flipper and an “Oook!” She says it sounds like he’s saying “Cook,” so Mr. Popper suggests they call him Captain Cook after the famous English explorer. Captain Cook then explores the icebox and decides to curl up there for the night.

A police officer comes by the next day, hearing that a penguin has taken up residence at the home. He tells the Poppers that they must pay an exotic livestock fee down at City Hall. Between the fee, all the fish needed to feed Captain Cook and the ice to keep him cool, Mrs. Popper begins to worry about their finances. She puts her worry aside though and, together with her husband, helps Captain Cook build his rookery, or nest. A month passes. Though Mr. and Mrs. Popper have taken great measures to keep Captain Cook comfortable, they see that he is not well and they write to the curator at a nearby aquarium for advice. The curator believes Captain Cook is suffering from loneliness and sends them a female penguin named Greta to keep him company. They get along so well that, by December, Mr. & Mrs. Popper find Greta nesting on top of ten eggs, which hatch on Christmas. Elated as they are, the fear about how they will support their growing family returns. Mr. Popper wonders if maybe they ought to sell the penguins, but Mrs. Popper argues that families need to stick together. She says that if seals can be trained to perform in theatres, then penguins must be able to as well.

So, with determination and hard work, Mr. and Mrs. Popper train their penguins to perform a routine filled with fun tricks. Soon after, music hall mogul Artie Greenbaum visits the town of Stillwater in search of exciting new vaudeville acts to take on the road—vaudeville was like a professional talent show, with a variety of different types of acts. The Poppers and their penguins head to the local theatre to audition. When they arrive, they find the theatre manager in a panic because the last act of the matinee performance has failed to arrive. Mr. Greenbaum suggests they let the penguins perform for the audience as their audition. The manager and Poppers agree and the audience goes wild for the act. Mr. Greenbaum offers them a contract immediately after and the Popper’s Performing Penguins set out on a whirlwind national tour.

Months of travel and performing pass by. Mr. and Mrs. Popper find themselves no longer troubled by money problems, but they are growing tired of life on the road and are concerned for their penguins. They set matters aside for their big performance at the Royal Theater in Gargantuanberg. Unfortunately, Mr. Popper tells the cab driver to take them to the Regal Theater by mistake. At the Regal, they encounter Sven Svenson, who is there with his trained seals to perform their act. A chase ensues throughout the theatre between the seals, the penguins, and their owners. Finally, a police officer shows up to arrest Mr. Popper for causing the commotion. At the jail, Admiral Drake comes to the rescue, offering to take Mr. Popper’s penguins on an expedition to establish a new breed in the North Pole. Then Mr. Greenbaum arrives to offer Mr. Popper’s penguins a film deal in Hollywood. In the end, Mr. and Mrs. Popper decide to do what is best for the penguins. They agree to let Mr. Greenbaum shoot a documentary about their penguins’ journey back to their home in the South Pole led by Admiral Drake. They all set off on their Antarctic adventure

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