Onstage in ‘An American Tail,’ a Family’s Jewishness Comes to the Fore

The 1986 animated feature film American Tale tells the story of the Mousekewitz family of rats fleeing their home in 1885 after a group of horsemen (and their accompanying cat) set fire to a Russian village. It starts where you are forced to. they travel to the United States. Because Papa sings, “There are no cats in America, and the streets are lined with cheese!”

At the time, some critics said the film did not adequately portray the family’s Jewish background.In a review by Roger Ebert complained “Few children understand or care that the Mauskewitz family is Jewish.”

In the new stage adaptation of the film at the Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis, the background of Mr. and Mrs. Mousekewitz is unmistakable. The show begins with the menorah lit and the Hebrew blessings of Hanukkah chanted. They recite his two other Hebrew prayers. For the young Fibel, the main character, there is a story of a “stick mouse”.

The musical also enhances the representation of rats from Ireland and Italy in the story and adds rats from Sweden, China and the Caribbean. In the film, the Irish rat female protagonist is a black rat who quotes “the great Frederick Dormouth.” (There are plenty of rat puns.)

Like other recent history shows, “American Tail” sought to prioritize authentic portrayals of each character, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. It is important for the show’s creators to delve deeper into the Jewishness of the Mousekewitz family and include other groups to reflect the contemporary understanding that American identity is not subsumed by the larger identity. I felt there was.

“We certainly have different experiences and that shapes us in different ways,” said Itamar Moses, who wrote the show’s book and co-wrote the lyrics to some 12 original songs. rice field. (Several of them survived in the film, including Fibel’s favorite song, “Somewhere Out There,” strike For Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram) “The only way a diverse democracy works is by acknowledging and respecting our differences.”

Judaism and anti-Semitism have also been foregrounded in several recent plays and musicals, including ‘Leopoldstadt’, which depicts an Austrian Jewish family before World War II. “Parade” tells the story behind the 1915 Jewish lynching in Georgia. and “Just for Us,” about attending a white supremacist rally in Queens.

In “An American Tail,” artist and playwright Talvin Wilkes sought to represent the various groups that lived in the densely packed neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan in the 1880s. Because that’s where the Mousekewitz family arrived.

“The story that came out in 1986 didn’t fully reflect all the immigrants that existed there and that were essentially there to make New York City what it is today,” said director Taibeh. Magger said. “Is it awakening? Yes indeed. But it is also telling a deeper, richer, truer story.”

The concept of “American Tale” was conceived by one of the executive producers, Steven Spielberg, and the main character is named after Spielberg’s grandfather. By celebrating the melting pot theory, the Don Bluth-directed film embodied the contemporary attitude towards multiculturalism, in which groups of immigrants abandoned their individual cultures in an attempt to assimilate.

“They didn’t want to emphasize the peculiarities of Fibel’s ethnicity too much, because I think they wanted to keep the story as relatable and universal as possible,” said American Jew at Brandeis University. History professor Jonathan Krasner says: .

The decision to adapt the film to the stage came out of a conversation between CTC’s longtime artistic director, Peter C. Brosius, and the film’s producers, Universal. It didn’t matter that CTC, a former Tony Award winner for regional theater, regularly produces shows that tour the country. CTC’s first production, A Year With Frog and Toad, hit Broadway in 2003 and was nominated for three Tony Awards.

CTC matched songwriting partners Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler, who wrote the music and lyrics for the CTC musical. “Simple Kid’s Diary”) and Moses (a Tony winner for “The Band Visits”), and in 2018 they first met and began to develop their story.

In the film, Fibel is separated from his family during a perilous transatlantic voyage, and after arriving in New York, a series of misfortunes follows. As the various species of rats battle a group of cats known as the Mott Street Maurers, they are eventually driven into a boat heading into the distance, thanks to a plan devised by Fiebel.

“I had the opportunity to understand the perspective of these different groups of rats, why they had a hard time coming together, and why they were able to come together because of Fibel,” Moses said.

“What does the cat represent?” Moses continued. “In Russia they are Cossacks, in Italy they are mafias. They arrive in America and the cats plan to exploit the rats for labor.”

To bring stories to life on stage, creators turned to vaudeville. Vaudeville was coming into its own in the time and place of Fibel’s adventures. They built a small set and cast 20 actors, some of whom played dual roles. A six-piece band supports the company with his 16 songs.

In both the film and the musical, the cats are defeated and the Mousekewitz family reunited. But instead of the initial hope that the cats will be gone, the musical has a poignant finale, “There Will Always Be Cats,” which insists on solidarity in the face of eternal oppression whether they are cats or not. ” has been added. “American Tail”, positive review The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said it “provides a peephole into a past that doesn’t seem too far away.”

During rehearsals this spring, the show’s music director, Andrea Grody, hosted the Passover Sader with the writers and crew. The ritual’s message of sympathy for the less fortunate ancestors is reflected in the final song.

Moses said, “If you are not careful, you may not remember what your ancestors went through and you may end up with a cat.”

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