CAMBRIDGE — Joseph Robinette and Ronna Frank’s musical adaptation of “Stuart Little” focuses on the lessons to be learned from the adventurous mouse, but the Boston Children’s Theatre’s delightful production avoids getting too preachy by focusing on the performers.
Director Peter Ellenstein has gathered an enormously talented group of 13 young people and emphasized sincere interpretations of the characters, from Snowbell the cat’s (Jenna McLaughlin) mischievous behavior to the little bird Margalo’s (Zoe Parkin) sweet heroics.
Although a narrator (Gabi Guggler) sets up scenes and helps with transitions, Stuart (Miles Tardy) is the center of the action, and Tardy delivers the confident mouse without affectation. His clear, strong voice gives “I’m Headed in the Right Direction” just the right balance between Stuart’s need to explore and his love for his human family. Wearing Stuart’s trademark jacket and bowtie, and a headband with mouse ears, Tardy gently underplays his character, allowing room for everyone in this company to shine. Still, he embodies Stuart’s sense of joy in life, whatever it may bring.
Ellenstein dresses the rest of his cast entirely in black, making it easy for the actors to transform into a cat, a pigeon, or even a crowd of schoolchildren with the simple addition of some ears, wings, or a bit of uniform. He also cleverly plays with perspective, positioning Stuart above the humans, introducing some hilariously oversized props for Stuart, while the humans below him work with mouse-sized objects.
My 8-year-old companions loved the first act but were less enthusiastic about the second. At a total run time of about 75 minutes, an intermission seemed a bit unnecessary stopping the action of the show just when Stuart was about to hop into his red sports car and head out on his adventure. It’s difficult to get the energy of the show back into high gear, despite the enchanting “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” a wonderful song about being yourself no matter what others expect, and the bluesy “Sa’s’parilla” led by the excellent Bryan Marden, with cute choreography by Nicole Soriano.
The second act also hews closely to E.B. White’s 1945 novel, which sends Stuart on an open-ended adventure without the satisfying resolution the 8-year-olds were looking for. The 1999 film with Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie as Stuart’s parents played with the story to create a crisis with Stuart’s friend/enemy Snowbell that was resolved with a happy family reunion.
Still, even without a neat ending, this production showcases the talented kids of Boston Children’s Theatre, especially the scene-stealing work of 7-year-old Brendan O’Brien in a variety of roles, Ellenstein’s direction, and the spot-on playing of Mindy Cimini and her modest, four-piece orchestra.
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.