An imaginary beast loved by children across the United Kingdom will visit Columbia this weekend when the Candlelight Concerts Society Performing Arts Series for Children presents The Gruffalo at 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.
The Gruffalo is a story of a mouse who, when threatened by three other creatures, proclaims he is having lunch with a monster and that the creatures threatening him - a fox, an owl and a rattlesnake - are the monster's favorite food. Unfortunately for the mouse, the gruffalo he has described takes form.
The play is based on the children's book, The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
The book has won several awards, including a 2000 Blue Peter Children's Book Award for "Best Book to Read Aloud."
It is so popular in England that gruffalo toys have been created, as has a "Gruffalo Gang" in which United Kingdom residents younger than age 8 receive free Gruffalo memorabilia.
The play had sellout performances at England's Royal National Theatre and the Scottish International Children's Festival. It was recently performed on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center.
"I think it's one of the finest worldwide children's productions there is," said Candlelight Concerts President Holly Thomas.
Series coordinator Toba Barth booked the show after seeing it performed last year at the International Showcase of Performing Arts for Young People in Montreal.
"I feel very fortunate to be able to have them come to Howard County," Barth said.
It was immediately evident to Barth why the show was so popular.
"I think children will see wonderful literature brought to life," she said.
Compared with other performances Candlelight Concerts has staged, Barth said, this is one of the best, "an event not to be missed."
She said children will remember the show and talk about it for weeks afterward, but that they are not the only people to whom the show appeals.
Adults and older children also will enjoy the show, even though the target age is preschoolers to early-elementary pupils, she said.
"It's spectacular theater that anyone will enjoy," Barth said. "It appeals on so many levels."
General admission tickets cost $9 and are available in advance from Candlelight Concerts and at the door. The performance lasts 50 to 55 minutes. Tickets and details: Candelight Concerts at 410- 489-9950 or visit the Web site at www.candlelightconcerts.com.