|the Mousekewitz family (photo by Glen Stubbe)|
|all mice work together! (photo by Glen Stubbe)|
behind another one of their world premiere adaptations Diary of a Wimpy Kid, along with Itamar Moses, Tony-winning book writer of the lovely musical The Band's Visit. I can't speak to what was changed or added to the movie, but it's a well-written epic story that feels intimate in the lives of these relatable people, er... mice. It's really a classic hero story, as Fievel receives help along the way, his quest being to find his family. It's also a love letter to NYC, and the multi-cultural world of immigrants from many different places, with lots of place names and historical figures as clever mouse puns (Henry David Mouseau, mousegration from the South to Northern cities, the Mousopolitan Museum of Art). The musical includes several songs from the movie, including that famous one as well as "Never Say Never" and the popular "No Cats in America" (which I heard a lot of people singing as I was leaving the theater). From rousing anthems to lovely ballads to comic songs, the mostly new score covers it all.
We've seen Taibi Magar's directing work in several plays at the Guthrie, and she turns her hand to musicals here. The story is playfully told (these are animals after all), but grounded in the very real emotions of the characters. The choreography by Katie Spelman is playful as well, so inventive and light and animal-like. The bug dance is particularly charming. Did I mention there were bugs? Plus birds (magically taking flight on a bicycle) and a few scary cats represented by huge eyes.
|"Somewhere Out There" (Lillian Hochman and Matthew Woody,|
(photo by Glen Stubbe)
The suitcase theme continues from the curtain display before the show into the set itself. The Mousekewitz's Russian home looks like the inside of a suitcase, complete with plaid lining, and of course round mouseholes as entrances. The suitcase walls stay as the setting transforms to a boat or the city streets of NYC (brick wall backdrop and laundry hanging from clotheslines). The almost claustrophobic, but never crowded, feel of the suitcase set reminds us that these are mice living in a physically small but emotionally big world (scenic design by Jason Sherwood).
Trevor Bowen's costume design couldn't be more different from that on display in Hamlet at the Guthrie, but no less impressive. The immigrant mice costumes are earthy and animalistic; showier pieces include an extravagant Gilded Age dress for Gussie, a gorgeous patchwork coat for the sewing factory boss, and the Mouseany Hall emerald green suit.
An American Tail: The Musical is a little like Fiddler on the Roof plus Ragtime, with a dash of Cats (minus the nonsensical parts). It's a story of immigrants coming together in the greatest city in the world and working together to make a better world for all of us. It's entirely satisfying in themes, music, characters, and execution. I hope Steven Spielberg (executive producer of the film who based the character of Fievel on his grandfather of the same name) comes to see it himself. I think he would be pleased.
The inspiring and joy-inducing An American Tail: The Musical continues at Children's Theatre Company in South Minneapolis through June 18.
*I do not approve of the depiction of cats as the representation of all that's evil in the world. We all know they're the best creatures on the planet, who only want to sleep and eat. And sometimes kill mice like my Moritz Stiefel does, but that's just who they are, it's not malicious.