“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.” Comfortable or not, the kiddie fashion set may soon have trouble staying in their seats when Isaac Mizrahi narrates “Peter and the Wolf” Saturday through Monday at the Guggenheim Museum, as part of its Works & Process series.
Mizrahi, who says he first listened to the Sergei Prokofiev recording in high school, admits to having some jitters about his new role. “I’m always nervous about everything,” he says. “I’m just a nervous individual to begin with. But what I’ve learned about working on stage is that you have to learn to be nervous afterward.” Indeed Mizrahi is no stranger to having an audience, whether it’s for his ongoing cabaret act at Joe’s Pub or one of his TV appearances. This particular performance, he notes, will be “just another feather in my cap, without pun intended, because I think I’m going to be wearing a hat onstage.”
While he’s accustomed to going solo (his one-man show, “Les Mizrahi,” ran off Broadway for three years), this time the designer has some help — from none other than conductor George Manahan, music director of the New York City Opera, as well as the Juilliard Ensemble, which will incarnate all the characters, from the unlucky duck to the malevolent hunters. Artist Andrew Scott Ross designed the set as an installation of cutouts that depict the musicians giving form to the characters. The wolf, for example, “emerges” from a French horn.
His past theater experience notwithstanding, Mizrahi has let the other experts do what they do best. “I’m not the auteur of the thing. I’m really just the vessel,” he deadpans. “I’m going to be filled up with Prokofiev.” And will he be sticking to the script? “Well, I tend to think there’s going to be some kind of ad-libbed introduction, and maybe here and there I’ll sort of slip in a little something — but I do like to be true to a text, you know?”
Mizrahi has a tough act to follow. Over the course of the 71-year history of “Peter and the Wolf,” narrators have included the likes of Elaine Stritch, Leonard Bernstein, Sean Connery, David Bowie and Sting. But Mizrahi says his main objective is “to just have a really fun time.” It remains to be seen who will enjoy themselves more: the grade-schoolers in the audience or that grown-up kid standing in the footlights.