The Mouse Queen
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 15, 2005
At the top of the show, a menagerie of critter/musicians take the stage while a “clever monkey” introduces the story we’re about to watch, saying in part, “As you can see we’re all animals.” But they aren’t dressed as animals. All they have to indicate that they are animals are hats with bunny ears or fox ears or monkey ears attached to them. Yet that’s all we need to stir our imaginations for the rest of the night.
The Mouse Queen is a story of big dreams, big egos, and the big city. A tiny mouse named Tilly wanders a little too far into the jungle one day and meets Leonard the Lion, The King of the Beasts. Leonard decides that Tilly will make for a yummy dessert but she suggests that if he were to let her go she will one day return the favor. “But what can a tiny mouse do for a mighty lion?” he asks. As he is about to eat her, he discovers a gold coin that Tilly had found earlier and notices a picture of another “King” on it. He becomes very jealous and decides to find this king, challenge him to a fight, and bring back his head.
Meanwhile, Leonard having forgot about her, Tilly decides that she wants to be big and the best way to do that is to go to the big city. There she meets a city mouse named Russell who helps her to (mostly) avoid all the dangers found in a big city. Leonard, in the meantime, finds a café owner named Bernie King, whom he mistakes for the king on the coin. Eventually, Leonard learns that while a lion may be stronger than a man he is not quite as clever, and Tilly succumbs to the trappings of the big city (literally and figuratively). Tilly and Leonard meet again, each in an unfortunate position, and as it turns out a tiny mouse can help a mighty lion.
I think what makes The Mouse Queen so much fun, apart from its highly imaginative and minimalist format, is its synthesis of so many different styles. The story is told sometimes using live actors while at other times puppets play the same characters. The puppets vary from shadow puppets to marionette to rod to Bunraku. All the actors are also musicians who form a delightful Klezmer band, but even the band mixes in some less traditional Klezmer instruments such as a ukulele and even a juice harp. The Mouse Queen works because it appeals to us, especially the youngsters, on so many different levels. It’s like a movie of an illustrated storybook on stage with music. It’s good times.
The ensemble is a sight to see, working as musicians, actors, and puppeteers. I was particularly impressed with Mandy Travis, who plays/operates the Italian-accented Bernie King puppet. She also plays the clever monkey, the baritone sax, and the spoons. Tim Kane is very funny as Leonard the lion. He also provides the book with some help from Ben Glasstone, who gives us the music and lyrics. Glasstone is also the city mouse Russell and plays guitar in the band. The rest of the cast is just as versatile.
Peter O’Rouke’s set and puppet designs are quite remarkable in their combination of simplicity and extraordinary detail. The set is covered with so many written words that it’s impossible to take them all in. The puppets have detailed faces but most of their bodies are left to the imagination. Director Steve Tiplady’s staging is charming. He never forgets who his audience is.
The producing company, The Little Angel Theatre, offers us the wonderful message that one good turn deserves another, which is great—but it’s the fun and energetic way they present the message that makes it feel so fulfilling.