By Jori Waldron
There are many famous mice in children’s literature, but one that may not be as well-known is the mouse Frederick from the book of the same name written by Leo Lionni. His story is the basis for the production currently running at the Chicago Children’s Theater in the West Loop.
This 65-minute adaptation created by the Chicago Children’s Theater features Frederick and his four field mouse friends as they prepare for winter and then survive with Frederick’s help. Initially, some of the other field mice see Frederick as selfish because he does not help to store food or water for the winter. Instead, Frederick spends his time capturing memories and feelings. However, when these warm memories help them endure the cold temperatures, they come to appreciate what Frederick contributes to the group.
The musical talents in this small ensemble are astounding. Not only does each member of the cast have a beautiful voice used to perfectly harmonize, they also each play a musical instrument in the show. Frederick, played by Tommy Rivera-Vega, has several solo numbers, including “Wow!” during which he marvels at the majesty of nature. Ernest (Joe Dempsey) shows off his brains and creativity in his song “Bells and Whistles,” which features a fun invention with all sorts of lights and horns attached to it. He and his mouse friends, Sunny (Liz Chidester), Nellie (Nicole Laurenzi), and Baby (Leslie Ann Sheppard), encourage the audience to sing along as they look for Frederick in the song “No Mouse Left Behind.”
As is always the case at CCT, the set and special effects make the production magical. Children will love the bubbles, flying insects, and snow that falls from the ceiling during the show. There are also some very upbeat numbers, including the finale, “There’s No Runnin’ Out of Joy,” that make audience members want to clap along. Unfortunately, as winter descends, the show becomes somewhat dark. The message about appreciating other people’s unique talents may also be a bit lofty for very young children.
Nevertheless, the costumes, lights and incredible energy of the cast entertain viewers of all ages. Directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley, Frederick moves along quickly and tells a great story. A special treat is the musical accompaniment of Jess McIntosh who sings some familiar pre-show songs with her fun folksy voice to help the audience settle in before the production.
The relaxed atmosphere featuring child-friendly couches in three rows makes every seat a good one for the entire family to enjoy a fun outing together or for students to be entertained in a convenient location for a school field trip.
“Frederick” runs through December 1 at Chicago Children’s Theatre, (100 S. Racine Avenue, Chicago. Public performances are Saturdays at 10:30, 12:30, and 3:00 and Sundays at 10:30 and 12:30. School matinees are Tuesdays through Fridays at 10:00. More information and tickets are available here.