A little life writ large
- Paul Duchene
- Portland Tribune - Features
Normally the question, 'Are you man or mouse?' is an either/or proposition.
In Stuart Little's case, it's not so clear.
The title figure in E.B. White's beloved children's story, Stuart is the furry, 2-inch-tall son of an eccentric human family.
Complete with tail and whiskers, Stuart comes to Keller Auditorium this week in the musical adaptation of his adventures.
He'll have a good-sized audience, too. More than 32,000 schoolchildren will be bused in from as far afield as Longview, Wash., Tillamook and Salem for 12 shows. There also will be four public performances.
Oregon Children's Theatre is reprising its 1996 Drammy-winning musical, which adds circus flair to the tale. Jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers, unicyclers and even
a performer who balances a canoe on his nose appear to introduce Stuart's various adventures. The cast of 10 plays 30 characters.
To all appearances, Stuart is clearly a mouse, but the character remains disarmingly human. James Crino, a graduate of the Barnum & Bailey Clown College, drew raves for his 1996 performance and returns for an encore.
Discrepancies in size have been a literary metaphor for diversity going as far back as 'Gulliver's Travels.'
Director Stan Foote, who also directed the '96 production, says:
'I don't know if size is a metaphor for race, but we have cats and mice and all sorts of people within Stuart Little. E.B. White stories deal with diversity Ñ how people get along with each other. This is an adventure so there's not really a villain Ñ even Snowbell the cat decides to get along with him.
'Stuart falls in love with Margalo the bird and then makes a date with Harriet Ames, who's human. Kids have great imaginations; they're very creative. They take what you give them and accept it. What proves out is: How you behave is how you're judged.'
Foote says problems of scale between Stuart and the rest of the cast have been solved through imaginative staging:
'We roll a small ball behind a curtain, and Stuart brings out a large one. Stuart finds a ring that's been lost, and it looks like a hula hoop. Then Mom has it on her hand.'
Foote has worked in Portland theater for 25 years, the last nine with Oregon Children's Theatre. He first worked at the Keller Auditorium as a ballet production manager and isn't intimidated by its size.
'It seems huge to the audience, but when you stand on that stage, it's much more intimate,' he says.
Foote says his main task is to keep the show exciting, and he was lucky to get Crino to reprise the title role.
'He's fabulous,' Foote says. 'He works for Fred Meyer, he was in 'La Cage Aux Folles,' he designed costumes for 'The Taffetas.' That's theater in Portland, a little bit of this, a little bit of that Ñ and a day job.'