Dallas — It’s a tough world out there for a mouse, always scrounging for food and scurrying away from ravenous cats. No wonder, then, that the mouse protagonists in The Island of the Skog, a sprightly musical based on a picture book by famed children’s author Steven Kellogg, would decide to chuck it all and sail away to find a new, safer home on an island paradise. Still, even in their new home, danger lurks, and the mice will need to defend themselves against a new threat: a terrible, unseen monster called the Skog. Will the mice prevail, or is there more to the situation than meets the eye? Last mounted in 2003, Dallas Children’s Theater charms in their latest production of the musical, directed by DCT Founder and Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt, with a cast of familiar faces and inventive staging.
Jenny (Deborah Brown) and her mouse friends are fed up. After a too-close-for-comfort run in with yet another cat—and on National Rodent Day, too!—they make a command decision: time to look for greener pastures. Led by the dim, but enthusiastic Bouncer (Karl Schaeffer) and his Rough-Riding Rowdies (Blake Seabourn and Max J. Swarner), the mice sail off to find a new and safer place to live. After some mishaps with directions—compasses can be tricky—the mice find themselves off the shore of an island that their maps call “The Island of the Skog”. Assuming onomatopoetically that “the Skog” might not be the friendliest of neighbors, the mice fire their cannons to scare him off, then start setting up their new community. But when they spot gigantic footprints on the beach, and their boat goes missing, the mice realize they’ll need to lay a cunning trap for the Skog if they want to keep their new island. Shenanigans ensue as the mice and the Skog try and scare each other off, but in the end, both sides learn that they may just have misjudged each other, and that maybe there’s room for everyone on their new island home.
Barring some slow moments in Act I, the show moves along at an appropriately fast pace, and the actors commit wholeheartedly to even its silliest moments. Deborah Brown’s Jenny is a nicely grounded presence next to the woeful Hannah (Gena Loe, a comedic scene-stealer with quite the impressive one-handed cartwheel) and the fretful Wooster (K. Doug Miller), and with the exuberances of Bouncer and his Rowdies. The songs are sweet, if forgettable, with a few exceptions (notably Act I’s “A Taste of Home”). But perhaps most impressive is the scenic design by Jeffrey S. Franks: a large grandfather clock in Act I is the site of a notable cat battle, which was well staged (and effective, if the reactions of the younger audience members around me were anything to go by—many shrieks), and the mice’s ship is impressively detailed. The Skog, designed and built by the Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts, is a masterpiece—a black, drooping menace with large clawed paws, and it’s masterfully manipulated by puppeteer Ziggy Renner, who manages to convey both the Skog’s initial menace as well as the surprise turn the character takes by the show’s end. The show’s digital effects (also designed by Franks) are well-conceived, too; video imagery is projected onto a sort of keyhole towards the back of the stage, effectively conveying place, and at one point combining impressively with shadow puppetry.
Perhaps geared slightly more towards younger patrons, still The Island of Skog should make for a fun family outing for kids of all ages, with impressive effects and a sweet message about the value of good communication, and not judging a book by its (albeit terrifying) cover.