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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Anatole, the Mouse with Big Ideas

First Stage’s charming adaptation of a beloved children’s story

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For a little guy, Anatole the mouse has some pretty big ideas. How he manages to make life better for everyone around him is one of the themes in First Stage’s new musical, Anatole.

The play is based on an award-winning book of the same name written by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone. Musical co-creators John Maclay and Lee Becker, in conjunction with composer James Valcq, have written a dozen charming tunes that make this musical as light as a soufflé.

Director and choreographer Molly Rhode leads a strong cast as she weaves together the story and songs. There’s a definite French flair here, as characters pepper their dialogue with French words and an illuminated Eiffel Tower appears on the backdrop. Anatole (played by Gerard Neugent) sports a jaunty beret outfitted with Mickey Mouse-type ears. Brightly colored costumes and a cartoon style set the stage for Anatole’s magical adventures.

Children’s roles are double-cast, and on opening night the Swiss cast performed as Anatole’s large family, which includes six children. Karen Estrada, who plays Anatole’s demure wife, later lets out all the stops when she becomes the vampish cat, Charlemagne. Rick Pendzich is dependably comic as Anatole’s buddy. Adults may appreciate these skilled actors more than the kids, who seemed most enchanted by some dancing cheese.

Anatole runs through March 16, at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, 929 N. Water St. For tickets, call 414-267-2961 or visit firststage.org.