Review: STUART LITTLE at Des Moines Playhouse: Its time to Imagine Again

Letting kids of all ages use their imaginations again

By: Feb. 28, 2021
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Review: STUART LITTLE at Des Moines Playhouse: Its time to Imagine Again
Will Johnson as Stuart Little
Photo by Brent Isenberger

Over the last year, there have been things we've all missed. I especially miss taking my friend's now seven-year-old daughter to see a children's show. Through the Playhouse's Friday Funday program, she was introduced to theatre, so I was excited to take her to a production at Kate Goldman's Children's Theatre. The first one we attended was "Ella Enchanted," which was a magical evening. So I was excited to see that the Playhouse was bringing back the Kate Goldman Children's series this winter, with their first show "Stuart Little, by Joseph Robinette, based on the book by E.B. White, opening this last Friday.

"Stuart Little," tells the story of a mouse by the same name being born to a family of humans. While at first, they worry about the life Stuart will have living in the big human world; they soon find out how useful it is to have someone around as small as Stuart. One day, Stuart's mom finds an injured bird outside the window and brings it into the house to heal. Stuart falls in love with the bird, who we find out is named Margalo, but when the bird leaves suddenly, he sets out on a quest to find and reunite with her. Is that quest successful? That you will have to attend or stream the show to find out.

Review: STUART LITTLE at Des Moines Playhouse: Its time to Imagine Again
Will Johnson as Stuart Little
Photo by Brent Isenberger

One of the things I love seeing with children's theatre is a show that leaves room for kids to imagine both during and after the show. "Stuart Little" gives plenty of room for imagination and leaves the audience imagining after the show is done. This comes from the collaboration with the artistic team of Director Katy Merriman, Scenic Change Artist Alex Snodgrass, and Costume/Pros Designer Angela Lampe. Merriman has done a great job finding a balance between what needs to be seen on stage and what can happen offstage. This allows the action to move along at a quick pace. The set is built to enable scene changes to occur without stopping or slowing down the show. Snodgrass accomplishes this by having stage blocks and boxes that can quickly be moved from place to place. Angela Lampe has done a terrific job with building costumes that by adding or removing a piece, allows the actors to become a completely different character.

One of my favorite technical elements of the show had to be the props designed by Angela Lampe. I enjoyed seeing the time put into making all of the oversized props for Stuart. Seeing Stuart carry these larger-than-life props brought an extra bit of humor to the show. They also drew the audience into the story as they left the audience looking forward to what oversized prop might show up next while never taking away from what was happening in the show.

In the past, when the Playhouse has staged Stuart Little, they have had a child play the role of Stuart. In this production, Stuart is played by Valley High School Junior Will Johnson, who returns to the stage after his Cloris Award Nominated and Dionysus Award-winning performance as Crutchie in "Newsies." Will brings a timeless take to the role of Stuart that lets the audience decide what age the character is. The youthfulness he brings to the role will keep the kids' attention and the adults as well.

Review: STUART LITTLE at Des Moines Playhouse: Its time to Imagine Again
Will Johnson as Stuart Little
Photo by Brent Isenberger

The fantastic performances don't end with Will Johnson's Stuart. The terrific performances continue with a strong group of actors taking on multiple roles through the show, Michael Howland, Julie Howland, Brad D. Church, and Lexus Thiessen. From the top of the show, these adults do a great job of bringing a youthful energy to the characters. As they run on and off stage, changing characters multiple times, the energy they brought felt like they were on a playground having the time of their lives. I have to commend them on how different they made each of the characters they played. One of my favorite parts was watching each of them take on various animal characters.

If you or the children you know are looking for a fun evening, either at the Playhouse or home, I highly recommend seeing "Stuart Little." The story, technical teams collaboration, and terrific cast make for a fun evening for all ages that lets them imagine both during the show and after. Performances for "Stuart Little" continue through March 14. Tickets can be purchased for in person, or online performances by visiting Stuart Little - Des Moines Playhouse (dmplayhouse.com)

Review was written by DC Felton
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