Adapted by Suzanne Miller
Now extended through November 23rd!
The squeak shall inherit the Earth
|Chicago Children’s Theatre presents|
Review by Katje Sabin
Chicago Children’s Theatre‘s world premier of Leo Lionni‘s classic children’s picture book Frederick is an example of good theater for children that isn’t JUST for children. So many little touches throughout this musical adaptation of the beloved story about the importance of family and joy bring it to life for all ages (though the story itself isn’t tragic, do be sure to have a few tissues tucked in your pocket, because there are a few moments in this production that brought every adult in the house to tears).
Right off the bat, John Musial’s set immerses us into Frederick’s world, with huge boulders in a fall palette that seem lifted right from Lionni’s signature wrinkly tissue-paper-collage art style. The music director (Nicholas Davio), in rustic working-mouse garb, walks to center stage and gives us a little sample of his guitar skills with a gentle opening song that brings the houseful of noisy excited kids to a place of calm anticipation.
At first, I honestly thought he wasn’t miked, but the sound direction in this show does a great job of amplifying the action only to the barest minimum level needed to make sure every seat in the house can follow the story. This was especially delightful because it keeps the overall noise level in the theater quite low. Some places feel the need to amplify over the sound of the kids, which only serves to goad them into even louder forms of self-expression… but by keeping the sound down, CCT successfully keeps a houseful of jazzed-up kids relatively quiet – no mean feat.
Amidst the oversized nuts and clever creature puppetry, we meet a scrappy band of mice preparing for the winter: cheerful Sunny (Emily Casey in her CCT debut), practical Nellie (Sophie Grimm), clever Ernest (Shawn Pfautsch), dreamy Frederick (Richard Juarez, perfectly cast in his debut as well), and —the crowd’s runaway favorite — diminutive Baby (Christine Bunuan), whose frustrations and point of view every kid in the room will identify with instantly.
Folksy live music and songs accompany the mice as they go about their business, and the story is peppered with plenty of little comic moments that keep the tone light, even when our title character becomes imperiled (the danger never becomes overwhelming, though, and is appropriate for small children). The only time I noticed kids getting restless was during jealous Nellie’s bluesy piece that highlights her powerhouse voice, but slows down the action considerably.
The well-cast actors portraying the mice are not only adept with their characters and music (each mouse plays a different instrument), but displayed a goodly amount of improv skills when props and instruments went awry, as is their wont during live performances… a nice reminder that we are in capable hands, stagecraft-wise.
The lighting design by Lee Fiskness (in his CCT debut) is subtle, yet heightens the magic considerably. The colors are gently evocative of the season’s changes, and the dappled light bring an even closer familiarity with Lionni’s art. And the charming costumes by veteran designer Rachel Anne Healy are whimsical, setting the perfect tone for each character. The program comes complete with a range of kid activities, so the magic can continue at home with you and your child.
The story, in case you have never had the opportunity to delight in Lionni’s gentle storytelling, is a simple tale of the different ways we prepare for adversity, how families pull together for each other, and the importance of art and joy in our lives.
All in all, a wonderful show to share with the little ones in your life.
Frederick continues through
November 16th November 23rd at Ruth Page Center, 1016 N. Dearborn (map). Tickets are $23-$28, and are available by phone (872-222-9555) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoChildrensTheatre.org. (Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Charles Osgood
behind the scenes
Stuart Carden (director), Jacqueline Russell (artistic director), Sarah Durkee, Paul Jacobs (songwriters), Suzanne Miller (adaptor), Nicholas Davio (musical director), John Musial (scenic design), Lee Fiskness (lighting design), Mikhail Fiksel (sound design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design, construction), Meredith Miller (puppet and properties design), Carrie Taylor (production stage manager), Amy Witherby (assistant stage manager), Andi Sturtevant (second assistant stage manager), Adam Belcuore (casting), Kyle Serilla (casting assistant), Lauren Roark (assistant costume designer), Emily Waecker (draper), Jef Ouwens (tailor), Megan Carter (stitcher/crafts), Means of Production (set fabrication), Charles Osgood (photos)