In 1986 Universal Pictures released the animated film An American Tail, and I wasn’t in the theater for that one. I was fourteen and it was a cartoon released three years before Disney’s, The Little Mermaid, made animated features cool again. I was aware of the Academy Award nominated song “Somewhere Out There“, and I think I was aware it was about a mouse who immigrated to America. So I can’t tell you if the film you loved as a kid is faithfully adapted to the stage. What I can tell you is that the version I saw on opening night at Children’s Theatre Company is a very entertaining yet surprisingly political show. The show is jam packed with subjects to discuss with your children or grandchildren on the drive home. Tradition (As Tevye might sing it), immigration, organized crime, political philosophies, and haberdashery to name a few. There’s plenty of laughs to keep the adults entertained along with excitement and creativity to enthrall the wee ones. There was also a couple of effectively frightening moments that were quite impressive from a stage craft perspective as well an emotional response.
The film has been adapted for the stage with book and lyrics by Itamar Moses, and music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler. The story opens in Russia where the the Mousekewitz family is celebrating Hanukkah after lighting the candles and giving the children their presents. Papa tells the children, Tanya and Fievel, stories before bedtime. These tales play into the multiple meanings that the title represents. For it’s through recounting the tales his father told him that Fievel finds inspiration to overcome the challenges he faces throughout the story. Once everyone is in bed there’s a cat attack and the Mousekowitzes home is destroyed. It’s then they decide to immigrate to America where they believe are no cats and the roads are paved with cheese. During the journey across the ocean, Fievel is washed overboard during a storm but survives in a bottle and washes up in New York City. Fievel sets off into the city to try and find his family, who assume he has died. Fievel first meets the villainous Warren T. Rat who sells him to a sweatshop. There he meets Tony who helps him and other orphans, who have also been enslaved, to escape the sweatshop. We learn that Warren T. Rat has been collecting protection money from the mice to pay the cats to leave the mice alone. Tony offers to help Fievel find his parents and in doing so they meet Bridget, an outspoken politically minded young mouse, who wants to lead a revolt against the cats. They organize a rally with the help of the wealthy uptown mouse Gussie Mausheimer and the politician Honest John to stop paying the protection money and fight the cats. Fievel hopes that his family will come to the rally and see him where they’ll be reunited.
Playing the lead as Fievel is Matthew Woody who performs with the assuredness and stage presence of a veteran performer. He’ll be an inspiration to any young people in the audience who think they might like to try their hand at the acting life. Equally appealing and talented is Lillian Hochman as his older sister Tanya. The duet share on that holdover from the film version “Somewhere Out there” is a high point of the show and an emotionally resonant moment towards the end of the first act. Luverne Seifert plays duo roles as the warm and loving Papa and the devious Warren T. Rat, pulling these complete opposites off wonderfully. Becca Hart likewise plays both Mama and Rat’s cockroach accountant Digit, getting a chance to show off her dance moves in a seen with her fellow cockroaches that’s wonderfully choreographed by Katie Spelman. Other notable performers are Ryan London Levin as Tony, Kiko Laureano as Bridget, Autumn Ness as Gussie and Reed Sigmund as Honest John. They, along with the entire ensemble, bring this tale of mice and cats to glorious life.
Speaking of bringing things to life, what a spectacular job the creative team has done bringing this tail into existence. Jason Sherwood’s Set Design is astonishingly inventive, each new scene brings some new wonder. Beginning with a suitcase that opens to reveal the Mousekowitz house to the perspective illusion of the sewer tunnels under New York. Lighting Designer Jeanett Oi-Suk Yew’s work enhances Sherwood’s work and get’s to do some really creative things like a flashlight that shines down making the Cockroaches scatter. Costume Designer Trevor Bowen along with Hair, Make-up, and Wig Designer J. Jared Janas create effective and distinctive looks for the characters. The tails and ears on the mice are perfect and I love Honest John’s suit, the suit that Tony makes for himself. The Puppet Designer Christopher Lutter-Gardella deserves special praise for the creation of the life size (in comparison to the mice) cats. Their attack at the beginning is genuinely scary with a great big face that comes lurking from the back of the stage and paws that reach out at the mice from the wings. There are also several sets of large glowing eyes that menace from all corners of the stage. Equally impressive is a giant mouse that appears inspired by one of Papa’s stories.
An American Tail the Musical is one of those Children’s shows that the adults will enjoy as much as the kids. In fact, it’s one of the rare children’s shows that I can unabashedly recommend to adults without children. It is running through June 18th at Children’s Theatre Company in Mineapolis, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://childrenstheatre.org/whats-on/an-american-tail-22-23/
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UPCOMING TCTB EVENT!!! Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Thursday May 4th for a Pajama Party with the TCTB! We encourage you to come in your pajamas and enjoy a performance of The Pajama Game at Artistry in Bloomington. There will be a post show discussion and a chance to meet your favorite Theater Bloggers. And, best of all, here’s a code to use PJPARTY to get discounted $30 tickets. You can read my review of the show here https://bit.ly/pajamagameartistry
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