Dallas — There’s a mouse on the loose at Dallas Children’s Theater, and he drives a little red convertible. Obviously, this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill mouse. He’s Stuart Little, the beloved classic character in E.B. White’s tale with the same name and star of this year’s DCT National Touring Production enjoying a hometown run through July 13. The show follows the DCT staging of another E.B. White classic, Charlotte’s Web.
Joseph Robinette adapted White’s book into story theater, a style that uses narrators to “fill in the gaps” between scenes to tell the story. Each of the production’s six cast members, except Randall Scott Carpenter, who plays Stuart, takes a turn at telling the story.
The Littles’ second son, Stuart, is the model child every parent wants their child to be. He’s polite, helpful, responsible, kind and smart. He’s also a mouse. How this happened is never explained, it just is. The Littles adapt well to their unusual circumstances, treating Stuart like any other member of the family. They even make special efforts to spare Stuart’s feelings. For example, singing “Three Blind Mice” is strictly forbidden, it’s much too insensitive. The only adjustment they don’t make is getting rid of the family cat, Snowbell. But then, what is a good story without conflict?
Stuart’s story is a series of adventures in his own home and in New York City, where the Littles live. It’s also a timeless story of resilience, bravery and friendship.
Director Doug Miller keeps the action moving seamlessly from the Littles’ home to a boat race in Central Park, a classroom and a dentist’s office with a clever, easily transformed set. Miller’s deft direction plays up the comic moments as well as the sweet, sentimental ones.
Carpenter’s portrayal of Stuart is genuine and sweet (no Napoleon complex here!). He’s a confident, happy little guy with a big personality. He’s a snappy dresser, too, thanks to costume designer Laurie Land.
Every cast member, except Carpenter, takes on multiple roles easily. Standouts are Justin Duncan, Stuart’s big brother who also has to play multiple species as Snowbell, the cat, and a dog; and Jad Saxton as the beautifully fragile Margalo, the bird who becomes Stuart’s best friend. The cast’s portrayals are all sincere and real, resisting the urge to be cartoon characters.
The biggest design kudos go to props designer, Anna Klawiter. Most of her props come in two sizes: human size and jumbo, mouse-perspective size. The sight illusion of a prop changing sizes depending on who is holding it is one of the most delightful and fun parts of the show.
Marco Salinas’ jazzy sound design was an unexpected surprise in a children’s show. Jason Lynch’s lighting easily takes the audience from narrator to scene and back again. H. Bart McGeehon designed the clever moving set, which looks like it was built from a set of building block shapes that most parents and children in the audience will recognize. The only disappointment in the set is the choice of plain brown, wood-stained blocks when bright lacquer-painted colors would have added to the whimsy of the piece.
The story-telling style makes Stuart Little more enjoyable for children 5 and older. The show also is faithful to White’s book, and not a stage version of the 1999 movie. Even though White’s story of the little mouse is now 60 years old, it’s a story that’s worth revisiting at any age. And the open ending is the perfect springboard for family discussion on the way home.