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The Tale of Despereaux by PigPen Theatre is a fantasy story for all ages.

(front) Dorcas Leung (Despereaux) and Dan Weschler (Stained-Glass Knight) with (back, l to r) Curtis Gillen (Most High Head Mouse), Betsy Morgan (Antoinette), Matt Nuernberger (Botticelli), Ryan Melia (Librarian), Ben Ferguson (Furlough), and Alex Falberg (Lester) in Berkeley Rep’s production of PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Tale of Despereaux, directed by Marc Bruni and PigPen Theatre Co.Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX: A New Musical. Directed by Marc Bruni and Pigpen Theatre Company at Berkeley Reps Rhoda Theatre , 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949.

November 21, 2019 –January 5, 2020.

 The Tale of Despereaux by PigPen Theatre is a fantasy story for all ages. Rating: ★★★★★

The Tale of Despereaux musical as conceived and performed by PigPen Theatre at Berkeley Rep’s Rhoda Theatre is based on the children’s book by Kate DiCamillo that was made into an animated film by Universal Studios. The musical had its acclaimed world premiere at San Diego’s Globe theatre a few months ago and has been “adjusted” for its present Holiday run. It is a fantasy for all ages to transport you to chimeric shores with brilliant acting and staging.

It all takes place in the fantasy Kingdom of Dor populated with as usual a King (Arya Shahi) and of course a Princess (Yasmeen Sulieman) since there is to be a love story entwined with a tale of courage by an unusual hero mouse named Despereaux (Dorcas Leung) who was born with open eyes and big ears thus making him symbolically and physically able to see and hear better.

Because of these attributes he unlike the other mice who eat books Despereaux reads books and as the narrator turns the pages his readings are the nidus for conflict with the mouse population who throw him into a dungeon without light. There he meets the Stained Glass Knight (Dan Weschler) who comes down from the window to instruct our soon to be hero the art of chivalry.

Also in the dungeon is the Roscuro (John Rapson) a rat you has been thrown into the darkness because he accidently fell into a terrene of soup causing the Queen (Betsy Morgan)to die of fright leading to the King banishing any form of soup in the castle thus leading to a crumb famine that affects the mice.

 Roscuro is short for Chiaroscuro an artistic term referring to strong contrasts between light and dark. He is in despair yearning to return to the light. There is also a strange human (Ryan Melia) in the dungeon who will play an important part in the denouement that appears at the end of Act 2.

 Before that happens there is another major character Miggery “Mig” Sow (Betsy Morgan) who after a life of torment ends up as hand maiden to Princess Pea.  Mig, because of her years of torment has strong desires to be a Princess and undertakes a dastardly deed ending with Princess Pea tied up in the dungeon with the three previously mentioned characters.

Eventually a battle is to erupt between our hero and Roscuro. The weapons are a needle and spool of red thread for Despereaux and a soup ladle for Ruscuro. The staging of that scene is worth the price of admission.

Dorcas Leung (Despereaux, left) and John Rapson (Roscuro) cross swords (of sorts) in the Berkeley Rep’s “Despereaux.” Photo: Kevin Berne.

The entire show is brilliantly staged with acting areas appearing and disappearing as needed. These acting areas sometimes soar. There is a bevy of hand held mice puppets that engage with each other and the humans. During all this non-stop action the actors fluidly sing, perform and exchange their musical instruments (guitars, banjos and violins) with nary a hitch. There is a plethora of shadow sequences, exemplary projected images with evocative lights and sound to match.

All the characters who sing have charming expressive voices even while engaged in physicality and choreography.

Running time is one hour and 40 minutes including an intermission. The entire show is a magical evening earning a must see recommendation.

CAST:  Ben Euphrat (Swing);  Alex Falberg (Lester); Ben Ferguson (Furlough);  Logan Foster (Swing);   Curtis Gillen (Louise, Most High Head Mouse); Natasha Harris (Swing); Dorcas Leung (Despereaux); Ryan Melia (Librarian, Prisoner); Betsy Morgan (Miggery Sow, Antoinette, Queen Rosemary);   Matt Nuernberger (Botticelli);  John Rapson (Roscuro); Arya Shahi (King Phillip);  Yasmeen Sulieman (Princess Pea, Merlot); Dan Weschler (Stained-Glass Knight).

CREATIVE TEAM: PigPen Theatre Co. (Book, Music, Lyrics, Co-Directors);  Marc Bruni (Co-Director);  Jason Sherwood (Scenic Designer); Anita Yavich (Costume Designer); Donald Holder (Lighting Designer; Christopher Jahnke (Music Director and Additional Arrangements);  Nevin Steinberg (Sound Designer; Lydia Fine (Shadow Sequences and Puppetry Co-Designer);  Nick Lehane (Shadow Sequences and Puppetry Co-Designer);  Tara Rubin (Casting).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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