WAUKESHA - When you enlist
the talents of Gerard Neugent, Rick Pendzich, Drew Brhel and Karen Estrada, and
give them a worthy musical script by John Maclay, James Valcq and Lee Becker,
you can’t miss.
And First Stage didn’t
miss a step in the wonderful production of “Anatole.”
Based on books written by
Eve Titus, Anatole is a mouse who tries to provide for his wife and children by
stealing food from people’s houses, usually food that has been dropped or
thrown away. However, when he hears one night at a party how humans really feel
about mice, he decides to find a more honorable way of earning his sustenance.
How he manages to discover a
new method of obtaining his food is quite intriguing, and with the help of his
“mon ami” Gaston, he uses his ingenuity and courage to find ways to live a
more honorable life and thereby become a hero to many.
The colorful mobile set by
Brandon Kirkham provides visual delights, as do the musical numbers, melody,
rhythm and clever lyrics. The costumes by Alison Siple are very well designed to
create a world of fantasy.
Estrada and Brhel both play
multiple characters. With their versality, they switch from one role to another
with ease. Estrada is especially memorable in her role as The Cat, but when
isn’t Estrada memorable?
Neugent shows his impishness
and whimsicality as Anatole. His overall contributions to the success of the
show are immense. His energy and total involvement in the role are typical of
all the parts he plays. What a talented man.
The production is made up of
young performers in the cheddar cast and Swiss cast, depending on when you
attend “Anatole.” The cheddar cast was on call the day I attended. They were
very coordinated and enthusiastic in their performances. Henry Lynch stood out
in his role as the NewsMouse.
The story touches on honor
and the effort it takes to adapt and solve problems. The friendship between
Anatole and Gaston also stresses the beauty of friendship and the comfort of
loyalty. All of these values are presented in a way that children can understand
them and adults can open discussions with them after the show. It’s always
interesting to hear what children are deriving from something.
It is one of the best shows,
among many, that I have enjoyed this season at First Stage Children’s Theatre.
Kudos to director and choreographer Molly Rhode and Chase Stoeger for their able
coordination of all aspects of the production; also to Timothy Splain for his
musical arrangements and orchestrations.
runs through March 16 in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the
Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call
414-273-7206 or visit www.firststage.org