February 26, 2021
Stuart Little brings a children’s book hero to fun life on stage
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
This story has been embraced by generations of children. A willing suspension of disbelief about a family’s second child born being a mouse. Children accept this surreal concept immediately, and launch themselves into the adventures of their new literary hero, Stuart Little. Adults have to delve deeply to connect with their inner-child to relate to accept the random entrance of a mouse as part of a human family to reach the enjoyment young ones find in Stuart Little’s world. This show marvelously introduces new fans to Stuart, while rekindling memories for those familiar with the lovable mouse…and, parents and grandparents who grew up with Stuart as part of their imagination through the wonders of books.
A cornerstone of the Des Moines Community Playhouse programming has been its Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre operation. Dormant for a year now, when the curtain came up for Stuart Little on Friday, a palpable weight seemed to lift from the repression of the COVID restrictions imposed on the Kate Goldman programming. Stuart’s origins are in the mid-1940s from the vivid pen and imagination of E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web). Joseph Robinette’s stage adaptation of Stuart Little gives audiences, including friends, family and fans willing to follow this gem via streaming, a refreshing stage version for a delightful family experience.
Under the experienced and alluring direction of Katy Merriman, Stuart Little prances across the colorful stage with captivating energy. Balancing the various ingredients to create strong children’s theatre, Merriman instills in her cast a delivery style that is direct and clear, appealing to the show’s primary audience. The four actors – Michael Howland, Julie Howland, Brad Church, Lexus Thiessen – develop a range of characters around Stuart (played with unflappable energy by Will C. Johnson). These support characters range from parents, brother and incidental folks along the adventure path to a pet cat, birds, and dog. This memorable cavalcade of cameo characters dovetails marvelously into the quickly-moving scenes, leaving the audience delightfully engaged. With much to discuss after the show, plus the enticement to read more about Stuart in books, Stuart Little is another gem added to the glowing crown of Kate Goldman shows and tradition. It’s great to mark the return for young audiences and their families with such a captivating show.
Scenic change artist Alex Snodgrass gives this ensemble a versatile, colorful assemblage of set pieces to shift into various scenes. The process will resonate with children, as this design reflects similar found object uses that children understand and use themselves. Master costume designer Angela Lampe cloaks the cast with effective, simple and colorful costuming and elements, giving the storyline free reign. The virtual broadcast experienced did have a glitch, in that the audio was not in sync with the visuals throughout the show. This gave that little bump of hearing a line or sound, then watching an action a split-second later. The overall excellence of the show overcomes the virtual hiccup, and there always is the option of attending in person – always the best choice. If you feel comfortable with the exceptional safeguards the Playhouse uses, then sally forth into the world of Stuart Little, a dynamic and alluring character.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.