The Emerald City Theatre Company began their 2008-2009 season this week with their production of If You Take a Mouse to School, based on the popular book by Laura Numeroff. The show is at the Apollo Theatre at 2540 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago and will run until November 2, followed by Hansel and Gretel (November 20 to January 4), The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle (January 17 to March 14), and Cinderella (February 14 to April 19). The show is $12 for kids and $15 for adults.
Emerald City is an expert in children’s adaptations, playing to over 100,000 children and parents each year, and If You Take a Mouse to School does not disappoint. The production combines acting with sound effects and interactivity to provide an enjoyable, fast paced 45 minutes. It is a 3-man play, the Mouse (Rawson Vint), the Boy (Matt Olson), and the Mom (Mary Williamson) who also plays the Bus Driver, Teacher, Millie the friend, Mother Mouse, and the Gym Teacher.
The show begins with the Mouse trying to convince his friend that he should take him to the school. While they brush their teeth together and wash up, the Boy explains that it is progress report day and if he gets bad marks, his parents may not buy him the new video game console he wants. The argument ends in a tantrum by the Mouse and the boy relents.
At this point, the show introduces its integration with the book. At each point in the show after the Mouse makes a demand, the spotlight shines on the boy where he recites the words from the book: “If you take a Mouse to school he’ll ask you for a lunchbox, etc, etc…,” adding on to the list each time. The kids start to get the hang of the monologue and by the middle of the show are saying the lines with the boy.
Interactivity plays a great part of the show. The kids are given homework before the show where they answer questions about shapes. When the Boy and the Mouse get to their first grade class, the teacher quizzes the audience on their answers. The cast is more then tolerant and plays off of the conversation by the kids, whether it is planned or not.
There is no singing during the play, but Emerald City uses music, sound, and light as another comedic actor. When they get to first grade, there is a hysterical hip hop rendition of “First Grade in the House” where the Mouse, Boy, and School Teacher all get down to business. Toward the end of the show, the Boy and Mouse jitterbug to Brian Setzer’s Dirty Boogie. And of course whenever the word “Principal” is uttered, the lights go out and ominous, foreboding music plays over the speakers.
If You Take a Mouse to School is a really funny, cute, and entertaining play. The Mouse and Boy have a great banter going as they consistently remind each other to use their manners (”Please” and “Thank You”). Mary Williamson, who plays about 5 roles, is hysterical. We don’t know if we like the hip shaking, goofy teacher the best, or the nerdy, allergic, crazy haired Millie, or the south-side, bumbling, know-it-all gym teacher. The play keeps the set simple, integrates the book, and provides creative gags and laughs for kids and parents.
Larry and Donna
Mom Says: I really enjoyed this production. The cast was hilarious and I loved the use of repetition that gets the kids engaged in the show. My whole family was laughing out loud and there were big smiles all around.
Dad Says: For me, I think the teacher cracked me up the most. She was this strange lady that borderlines on slapstick and creepy. Just when you get to the end and you think you are going to have a soft landing, the Dirty Boogie kicks in for a fast-paced dance number.