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Saturday, June 8, 2013
Generations of children have been captivated by the adventures of “Stuart Little” — and Roanoke Children’s Theater chose to introduce the tiny hero to his newest young fans in an energetic musical.
The production has all the key ingredients for an entertaining experience for youngsters: colorful characters, not-too-scary villains and whimsical songs. Mixed well by the company’s artistic director, Pat Wilhelms, this retelling of the tales of the metropolitan mouse is lively and fun.
Based on the 1945 book by E.B. White, the play revolves around Stuart, the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick C. Little of New York City. Stuart, unlike his older brother George, is inexplicably a mouse . No matter; his parents love him, make him tiny clothes and instill him with confidence.
The play follows most of the stories told in White’s book, which is more a series of short vignettes from Stuart’s life than a cohesive story.
Stuart shares his home with the Little’s pet Snowbell — the original grumpy cat — and natural cat-and-mouse tension develops. But Stuart has a taste for adventure, and finds it as he explores Manhattan. He captains a boat in a race in Central Park. He dodges dogs. He becomes enamored with Margalo, a bird living on his apartment building’s roof.
When Margalo discovers that Snowbell has plans to make a meal of her, she flees and Stuart sets out to find her, randomly stopping along the way to be a substitute teacher for a class of unruly children.
RCT does a commendable job of staging the story, particularly in the use of props.
When Stuart holds items belonging to his human family, they are enormous; when his father presents him ice skates his mother made with paperclips, they are miniature. When the items are exchanged behind scenery or offstage, they are the appropriate sizes. Other staging challenges are also handled creatively. When Stuart becomes trapped in a window shade, it is done in silhouette, as is the Central Park boat race.
The title role is played with gusto by Phillip Rodgers, originally from Salem and now a student at University of Virginia. Four other actors play all the other roles in the play — Barry Bedwell’s primary role is Stuart’s dad; the role of his mother is shared by actresses Kari Sullivan and Kianna Price Wade; Megan Corsnitz is Margalo and the always entertaining De’Shawn Riley brings the right amount of feline guile to Snowbell.
The kids in the cast, who play the students that Stuart attempts to teach, rotate each performance. During Thursday night’s nearly sold-out preview performance, Noah Oldham, Jackson Moyer, Kennady Wade and Ana Uotinen did a splendid job.
The youngest audience members seemed thoroughly entertained with the 50-minute production, and there’s enough fun to keep the adults content as well. The message of “Stuart Little” is that size of the body doesn’t limit the size of the spirit, and that message is delivered in a bright and clever way.
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