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One-on-one with Itamar Moses on 'An American Tail's' screen-to-stage adaptation at Children's Theatre Company

Tony Award-winning playwright Itamar Moses helped bring "An American Tail the Musical" to life at Children's Theatre Company, on stage now through June 18.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — "An American Tail the Musical" made its world premiere at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis over the weekend. The story is based off of the 1986 beloved animated film. An American Tail follows young mouse Fievel Mousekewitz as his Jewish family flees Russia to escape an army of cats. When a storm separates the family at sea, Fievel is forced to navigate New York City alone as a new immigrant. Book and lyrics are by Tony Award-winning playwright Itamar Moses (The Bands Visit), with music & lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler (Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Musical, The Secret of My Success). 

KARE 11's Heidi Wigdahl sat down with Moses to talk about what drew him to the project at CTC and how the story of "An American Tail" is more relevant than ever. 

I was curious to hear how you got involved with this show and was this something that you brought to them or was it something you were approached for? 

It's something they approached me about. CTC in Minneapolis approached Universal, who owned the rights to the film "An American Tail" and got the stage rights to adapt it, and then they reached out to me if I wanted to work on it. So it was their genius idea and I was just lucky enough to jump on board. 

What made you want to be a part of it? 

I'm 45 now and so I was 9 when the movie came out. So I was just one of those kids who encountered it for the first time on that first release in the mid-80s and was like singing, "There's no cats in America" at school. My child self is like, "Oh my God, I get to work on American Tail." And then also the movie, when I watched it again, it was sort of clear to me why CTC wanted to do it now. It has all these themes about waves of immigrants coming to America, to New York specifically where I live, and trying to make their way and the dream of what America is supposed to be... what they imagine it will be when they get there. That they find this more complicated reality but figure out how to make the best of it, that felt like a really timely message now in sort of all of our national conversations around those kinds of issues. 

Credit: Andrea Mayeux
Itamar Moses is a Tony Award-winning author whose work includes the plays Bach at Leipzig; The Four of Us; Completeness; and The Whistleblower; and the musicals Nobody Loves You; Fortress of Solitude; and The Band’s Visit. Television includes Boardwalk Empire and The Affair.

Is this the first all ages musical that you've put together? 

I've never worked in sort of children's theater or YA context. It's not that different. You're still facing all the same challenges of like, how do we make the story work? How do we keep everything... the comedy working and the drama? Are people following? You want them to laugh and cry at the right places. It's all the same. You're just dealing with an audience that is partly children and therefore has this slightly higher bar maybe for their attention. But kids are savvy. They understand more than we think and they like being challenged. So you don't have to treat it that differently. You just have to be a little bit aware of it's not quite the same thing.

It is really serious themes that that you're dealing with. 

The movie was sort of criticized in some quarters when it first was released for maybe being too dark for children. If you go back and look at Roger Ebert's original review he's like, "I don't know. This might be a little bit much." But here we are still talking about it 30, 40 years later. So it hooked into something. There's something about anthropomorphized animals that allows kids to have enough distance that you can deal with these high stakes and maybe scary situations. It's the real sort of stakes and threat to the characters that we care about that makes it so moving and satisfying when they're victorious in the end. 

You said this in an interview related to "The Band's Visit." You said, "Strangers are the clearest mirror in which we can see ourselves. When we shut out the stranger, we're actually shutting out what we don't want to know about ourselves."

Yeah, I agree with me. I think it's true and that's funny you bring that up because "The Band's Visit" is on one level, it's a very different show from "An American Tail." But on the other hand, it is about a group of people crossing a border and then dealing with the question of whether or not they're going to be welcomed in the new place they've arrived. So I guess maybe that is a theme that I find myself drawn to. That thing about how when we encounter a stranger, we learn something about ourselves and maybe we can grow if we're willing to learn that thing as opposed to try not to learn it and, yeah, I think that happens in American Tail too. 

Tickets for "An American Tail the Musical" are available now through June 18 at Children's Theatre Company. Tickets start at $15 and are available online or by calling the ticket office at 612-874-0400. 

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