Leo Lionni's FREDERICK Runs 3/28-4/13 at The Rose Theater
A poetic little mouse shines a light on the importance of creativity and imagination in the world premiere of Leo Lionni's Frederick, playing March 28 - April 13, at The Rose Theater. With its uplifting score and endearing characters, the gentle musical explores how beauty, poetry and art help sustain our souls.
"This is a show with a lot of charm," says director Michael Miller. "It is a lovely adaptation of the original work. This play was inspired by the original book, but we have been able to expand on the story, deepen the characters and bring them to life in a new way. The show really has something special."
Frederick tells the story of a mouse family preparing for the cold, dark winter. While the other mice keep busy gathering wheat, grain and seeds, Frederick seems to dream away his days. The other family members don't realize that Frederick is actually gathering rays of sunshine, stories and words. As the cold winter rages on and the stores of food dwindle, it is Frederick's collection of stories and poetry that brings light to the dark days. In the end, the other mice realize that Frederick's work has a unique value all its own.
Leo Lionni's book was awarded the Caldecott Honor in 1968 and is considered by many to be a staple of a well-rounded children's library. Playwright Suzanne Miller crafted the script, working closely alongside professionals from The Rose throughout its final development. The theater conducted a special workshop in September 2013 to hone the play's dialogue and fully develop the characters in the show.
According to director Michael Miller, "Workshops like this are something that we always want to do, but we don't always have the luxury to do. We are very fortunate to have been given this opportunity to work on the thoughtful development of the Frederick script."
Playwright Suzanne Miller has a particular affection for Frederick, explaining that she often read the story to her own children. While teaching a composition class, an essay reminded her of the children's story. "The essay was about how, even in the most difficult times, imagination has the power to lift us out of darkness. I was standing in front of my class discussing this piece and Frederick just popped into my mind. There he was in my composition class! This little mouse, saying, 'You need to write a musical about me," she says.
The songs in Frederick help drive the play's message of artistic expression. Composers Sarah Durkee and Paul Jacobs drew on their experience working on PBS' Sesame Street and Between the Lions to write songs that not only entertain, but also help develop each character and move the story forward.
"We sought out the humor and the sweet moments. Ultimately, we always made sure that the message was coming through," says Suzanne Miller.
Leo Lionni was the first children's author and illustrator to use collage as the main medium for his illustrations, and the set design for Frederick reflects his signature style. Set designer Erik Diaz has created a world filled with rich, earth-toned scenery with an organic feel reminicent of Lionni's illustrations. Lighting will play a key role in highlighting the intangible items Frederick gathers for his family.
"Frederick sees the world in a special way; he is able to see things that his peers and family don't easily recognize. What I hope to do is use lighting to let the audience see some things as Frederick sees them in his mind," says lighting designer Kyle Toth. "For example, when we see the same flashing of color as Frederick, we'll understand why he is motivated to move to it, and gather it, where as the other characters on stage won't understand...at least not at first."
Costumes for the show were designed to depict each mouse's distinct personality. Costume designer Audio Helkuik transformed Leo Lionni's original illustrations by using elements of steampunk design combined with elements of the industrial revolution to depict each mouse's unique personality and bring them to life in vivid detail.
"They are workers, but they each have their own unique personalities that come through," says Helkuik.
The collective result is a show full of charm with a thoughtful message that is perfect for young audiences.
"This is, at its heart, a show about nurturing the imagination," says director Michael Miller. "In our busy, frenetic, action-oriented world, Frederick reminds us that sometimes we need to slow down and use our imaginations."
Leo Lionni's Frederick will make its world premiere on The Rose stage March 28. The dramatic musical is recommended for children over age three. The run time is 60 minutes without an intermission.
Frederick runs March 28 - April 13, 2014, with performances on Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 5 p.m., and on Sundays at 2 pm. The 2 p.m. show on Saturday, April 5 will be interpreted for the hearing impaired. Tickets are $18 per person. Discount ticket vouchers are available at all area Hy-Vee stores for $14 each. Members of The Rose receive four free tickets to the production. For more information or to make reservations, call the Box Office at (402) 345-4849 or online at www.rosetheater.org.