Review: ‘Anatole: Mouse Magnifique’ at Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage is currently playing Anatole: Mouse Magnifique, a musical adaptation of the children’s book series “Anatole” by Eve Titus. Book and lyrics are by John Maclay and Lee Becker, with music composed by James Valcq.

Jaysen Wright as Anatole in 'Anatole: Mouse Magnifique' at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Jaysen Wright as Anatole in ‘Anatole: Mouse Magnifique’ at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The score was adapted and inspired from a variety of classic shows, ranging from Les Misérables to Beauty and the Beast, resulting in an interesting mix of dance styles, each choreographed by Britta Joy Peterson. Tom Story directed this fantastic production, with Deborah Jacobson serving as Music Director.

Scenic Designer Andrew Cohen created the beautiful set of a curved balcony, with a fireman’s pole on one end and a spiral staircase on the other. Following the arch of the apron and the balcony is a large circular track, which brings set pieces on and off stage in either direction.

The story takes place in Paris, France, and follows an exceptional mouse named Anatole, charmingly played by Jaysen Wright. Anatole is happily married to his lovely wife, Doucette (Jessica Lauren Ball), and works alongside his faithful friend, Gaston (David Schlumpf).

Schlumpf and Wright are a brilliant duo, playing nearly inseparable best buds. They sing the lively “Mon Ami” (My Friend) as they ride their bikes through Paris in search of cheese to feed their families. Their friendship is genuine, and the characters display a kind nature, which quickly endears them to the audience.

But while on the hunt for food scraps, Anatole overhears the humans complaining about how much they hate mice as they sing the amusing “Villains of France.”

Kendra Rai, who designed gorgeous costumes with magnificent tails for the mice, had a striking red, white, and black theme for the “humans,” which accentuated their hardline attitudes toward mice. And Peterson’s choreography in the number furthered that imagery with extreme and rigid movement that worked perfectly to convey their harshness.

Now, conflicted with the idea of taking food from creatures who despise them, Anatole resolves to find a new way of supplying cheese for his family. He decides to use his refined taste for cheese–as attested to by his BFF, Gaston–and become an “anony-mouse” cheese tester for the failing Duval Cheese Factory.

Anatole sings “Extra Specially Good” as he tastes each of the cheeses, rating them and then adding his personal suggestions for how to improve the flavor. Mme. Duval (Emily Kester), the owner of the factory, after much deliberation in “Who Is This Anatole,” decides to take the advice of this seeming eccentric cheese fanatic in exchange for unlimited cheese.

Anatole’s advice turns the failing company around, and as he is proclaimed the VP of the Duval factory, the mice and humans rejoice, literally singing “Nothing Ever Could Go Wrong.”

But in comes Charlemagne (Jessica Lauren Ball), Mme. Duval’s pet cat, to louse up the happy ending. Ball plays the perfect feline with her playful mewing (aided by great sound design by Justin Schmitz) and slinking about the stage. She sings “A Game of Cat and Mouse” and sufficiently scares Anatole and Gaston away from the tasting room.

Jessica Lauren Ball as Charlemagne in 'Anatole: Mouse Magnifique' at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Jessica Lauren Ball as Charlemagne in ‘Anatole: Mouse Magnifique’ at Imagination Stage. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Gaston fears for his life and vows to never return to the factory, but Anatole is determined to continue his job, taking pride in his success so far and not wanting to let Duval, or his family, down.

With the help of the hilarious Super Alpha Strike Force (Emily Kester, Alexandra Palting, and Chris Rudy), Anatole devises a plan to protect himself from the cat and continue the work that he believes in.

Anatole: Mouse Magnifique is an honest celebration of a strong work ethic and sincerity that is refreshing to see. But despite the lesson in the story, the production never feels like a lecture.

Wright’s Anatole exemplifies the basic characteristics of integrity that are rarely the focus of children’s tales, highlighting the satisfaction that can come as a result of hard work, dedication, and adhering to one’s own moral compass. And with music that is gorgeous and fun, and hilarious performances from the actors, the show is a joy to watch for kids and adults alike.

Anatole: Mouse Magnifique is recommended for ages four and up, and is playing in repertory with Dickens’s Davy Copperfield, which opens on February 16th.

Running Time: 65 minutes, with no intermission.

Anatole: Mouse Magnifique plays through March 24, 2019, at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Ave, in Bethesda, MD. Dates and showtimes vary. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (301) 280-1660, or go online.

Sophie Schulman, Ensemble; Max Doolittle, Lighting Designer; Tonya Beckman, Dialect Coach; Che Wernsman, Stage Manager; Graciela Rey, Assistant Choreographer; Tosin Olufolabi, Assistant Sound Designer; Paulina Campbell, Assistant Stage Manager