By Maguire Wilder, with music by Maguire, Gavin Knittle, Kiara Negroni, Lucas Saur, Kyle Best, Natalie Thomas, and Lo Williams
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Most New Yorkers have contended with the sight of rats scurrying among the tracks in the subway system. But how many of us have thought to turn that experience into a stage musical—and from the rats’ point of view?
Well, Maguire Wilder and her composer collaborators have shouldered that challenge in RaTs: SubwaySongsandStories, getting a workshop production at TheatreLab in Hell’s Kitchen. This self-described “part fact-based narrative and part queer fantasy,” follows two lady rats on their quest for love and feasting on the night of the mystical Solstice—only to come to a tragic end.
Fara Faidzan plays the Subway Rat Princess with a frantic but endearing gawkiness, brought on by her unrequited horniness. She is aided in her journey by Tabby Cat the Sewer Rat, played by Maiya Pascouche with a contrasting sensuous confidence. Their subterranean bildungsroman hits its high points with the rocking celebration song “Throw It Back, Little Rat,” and breaks your heart with the plaintive “Let Me Out.”
Other roles are taken by Claire-Frances Sullivan, Markese McLamb and John Knipsel, who also act as the chorus and three-piece orchestra.
Though vermin are not often portrayed sympathetically (Disney’s Ratatouille squirms to mind as an exception), the peculiar thing about this show is how militantly pro-rat it actually is. It makes a villain of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its latest rat eradication campaign. The show is all about how the poor innocent rats just want to gobble fast food and have sex “just like you” and how sad it is when they get trapped and poisoned. And wind up ascending the stairs to Rat Heaven, where one supposes they will meet Cheese-us.
Offered as timely counterprogramming to the ill-fated Cats movie, RaTs scampers along for most of its ninety-minute intermissionless run time, but bogs down once the leads are trapped and singing about how they literally want to throw up. The audience needs to hear a bit of higher rat philosophy and aspiration than their simply wanting to eat and mate. But maybe that’s as high as rat eschatology goes.
RaTs: SubwaySongsandStories is playing a limited run through January 26 at TheaterLab in Manhattan.