Billy Aronson wears many hats. The skilled playwright and writer has been a huge force in many notable plays and television shows for years, quietly and tenaciously putting out incredible content for audiences of all ages. Aronson is best known for helping to create the smash hit musical “Rent,” and also helping to create and write for other wildly popular children’s shows such as “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” “Codename: Kids Next Door,” “The Backyardigans” and many more. One of Aronson’s popular creations, PBS’ “Peg + Cat” is coming to the City of Brotherly Love next week on March 30 at the Merriam Theater, and all Philadelphians are invited out to delve into the wholesome world of Peg, Cat and a lot of math. Aronson sat down with Metro to discuss his career, what to expect from the show and how speaking from your heart is the most important tool you have.
PBS’ hit show Peg + Cat is hitting the stage in Philly
Aronson is used to being versatile in his career, which has made his writing so transparent and relatable. “I always think the best stories are true for everybody, like a great fairy tale,” says Aronson. “Think of great picture books like ‘The Giving Tree’ or ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ — there’s something for everyone there.”
When writing “Peg + Cat” Aronson tapped into that notion of writing a show not only for kids, not only for parents- but writing a show that he truly does believe in and enjoy. “It really is close to my heart,” the Brooklyn-based writer said about his hit PBS show.
What can audiences expect from the show? A lot of laughter, comedy and family fun. “I would say because there’s a ton of physical comedy in the show. Jennifer Oxley who I created it with and I both love physical comedy. So falling down, tripping, knocking stuff over, Cat flying- all kinds of magical effects. The music is also really strong in the TV show. We teach a lot of the math through song and that kind of stuff works great on the stage. We don’t get to interact with the audience on tv, and that’s part of the thrill of doing it on stage. There’s a chase scene through the audience, they get to ask the audience questions, they have the audience help solve problems in this- I mean really solve problems. It’s nice going the extra distance with that, it’s a great opportunity to be able to do it live.”
Having that sense of goofiness when writing has proved to be a successful tool when writing his shows. “At a party, I tend to relate to the littlest kid in the room, even when there are grown-ups there. It’s my sense of humor and physical comedy and goofiness. I really make a good friend of that four-year-old in the room. At the same time, I want to tell the truth. I don’t talk down to kids.”
The stage show will be similar to the television show, but the live version also has a lot more to offer. “We got themes from all of our favorite episodes and music from all of our favorite episodes in there. So, in the end, its really a story about Peg and Cat-how strong is that bond? Which is sort of at the heart of all of the show, and I think its a lot of fun. Plus with the set, it’s three dimensional- you feel like you’re walking into the show. They really took advantage of the fact that they are in the theater and they can flip things around. It blew my mind.”
Keeping that in mind, Aronson always tries to implement his outlook on life in his work. “Some endings to my shows — for example, ‘Peg + Cat’ — are happy. But that’s really how I look at the world. I have a cheerful outlook. I see the world in a positive way. I’m not faking it and I don’t feel like I’m making something up by presenting these stories in which love saves things,” says Aronson. “I don’t make it easy, I don’t cheat. I hope I’m not sentimental and melodramatic. I think I tell stories that are true, like a good fairy tale. If you want to get to this happy ending, you have to sacrifice this and that. You have to earn it.”
Speaking from his heart is what has launched Aronson’s career and kept his success afloat and abundant, including with “Peg + Cat”. Although it is, in fact, a children’s show Aronson poired his heart and soul into it- and that shows onstage. “I used to do a lot of different money gigs and I found you just can’t do it unless you write what you love. Whatever the project is, however silly it might seem or commercial if you can’t find a way to have it intersect where your heart is, you won’t do it very well.”
If you go: March 30, 2 pm, Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, $25-$50, kimmelcenter.org