Saturday, January 28, 2012
Theater review: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie at Dallas Children’s Theater
A cute show done with excellence.
Laura Numeroff has written a number of children's books that are quickly becoming classics in the eyes of her young audience and their parents. Her works include If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, and If You Give a Pig a Party. Dallas Children's Theater has been given the unique privilege of being able to adapt these books for the stage. In 2005 DCT first introduced the stage adaptation of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and it was an instant hit. In fact it was DCT's highest-selling show ever!
With that accolade, there were high expectations for this reprisal of the show (playing at Rosewood Center through February 26). Director Nancy Schaeffer was not content to simply use a cookie-cutter approach this time around. If you enjoyed the premiere in 2005, you will love the fresh new take on the story, presented in DCT's large Baker Theater.
Karl Schaeffer, as The Mouse, took a unique approach to the antics of his character in this presentation. He went to the extreme of training with Fanny Kerwich and Kelly Shea of Lone Star Circus in order to create over the top stunts and some impressive visual sight gags to delight his young audience. From a hilarious recreation of the Marx Brothers' famous "reflection" scene in Duck Soup (with his son as the reflection) to some impressive work on the aerial silks, Karl Schaeffer had my 10 year old daughter convinced that he was actually a circus performer!
This circus motif did not stop with Schaeffer's antics on the stage. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of this production was the set design by Randel Wright. In a word, this set was breathtaking. For all the sight gags to work, the set needed to be larger than life -- the world as seen by a small boy or even a mouse. Through ingenious use of perspective, and playing with geometry, Wright created an amazing visual. The attention to detail, with magnets on the refrigerator, the counter design, etc., and use of color was outstanding. No disrespect to the actors, but the set itself was an amazing performer in its own right!
The brilliance of the set design was made even more evident when partnered with the lighting design of Linda Blase and sound design of Marco Salinas. At key moments in the production, the lights subtly shifted as circus music began to play. In that moment, the kitchen was magically transformed into a big top circus tent. Simply amazing and must be seen to be believed!
The impressive antics of Karl Schaeffer would have fallen flat without Scott Zenreich as The Boy, in a role akin to a comedian's straight man. Zenreich captured the spirit of the young boy in this presentation. His delight and frustration with the Mouse was the anchor that held the show together. The only issue with Zenreich's performance was related to sound. The performers in this production were not wired for sound except in one brief scene. As a result, Zenreich's voice was swallowed by the venue throughout the show. His opening monologue, although audible, was lacking power and presentation. This seems like a problem easily fixed through amplification.
It was amazing how a small children's book could be transformed into a full-fledged show that captivated the audience entirely. Parents, let's be frank. This show is not geared for you. Sure, you will enjoy this excellent production and be impressed by the physical antics of Schaeffer as he runs around the stage.
The intended audience, however, will be the small people you bring along with you -- and they will be enraptured! Throughout the show, the young audience was laughing, calling things out, and loving every moment. I would frequently look over at my youngest daughter and see sheer delight reflected on her face. Shakespeare, this ain't -- and it isn't intended to be!
Parents, do yourself and your children a favor. Your kids deserve time with you, and taking them to see If You Give a Mouse a Cookie will be a great way to get that interaction going. It's a cute show done with excellence!
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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