Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel
“Not to brag (well, this is my story, so I guess if I’m going to brag, this is the place to do it, right?) but my house is the most beautiful, most magical, most jaw-droppingly fabulous place in the world …”
So begins Jenna Gavigan’s charming young adult novel “Lulu the Broadway Mouse,” appropriately subtitled “Tiny Dreamer. Big Dream.” And what is the protagonist’s house? It is the Shubert Theatre, located at 225 West 44th Street in New York City. Here is where the sassy young mouse and her family work and reside.
Gavigan made her Broadway debut as a teenager in the 2003 “Gypsy” revival, which starred Bernadette Peters. It is clear that Lulu is both a celebration of the author’s experience as well as a peek behind the curtain. “Show business is an uncertain path full of highs and lows, hills and valleys, sunshine and clouds … but still …” The tale (tail?) paints a picture of a theater world that is both exciting and challenging, full of rewards and disappointments — but, most of all—lessons in life.
Lulu works with her mother in the wardrobe department and has one goal:to perform on a Broadway stage. While it’s a daunting proposition, she is a wonderful role model of inspiration and drive:
“Here’s the thing, though. In case you’d forgotten. I know I’m eloquent and funny and it’s easy to forget … I’m a mouse. A darn cute and talented one, but, well mice can’t be on Broadway. At least, none of us ever have been. I know it’s not fair. It’s just the way it is. True, plenty of things never happened until they did. No one had ever walked on the moon until that Neil Armstrong guy did it.”
Lulu we learn (like all mice) can talk. “We can talk everywhere … but so far, only theatre people listen.” Gavigan creates a mythology with the story of a seamstress, Bet, who befriends Poppy, the first mouse ever to work in the building. It is a wonderful story in the narrative’s rich tapestry. “These mice are here to help us,” says Bet. “They’re our coworkers, not our enemies.”
Lulu’s world is populated with a winning variety of characters including the stage manager, the child wrangler, the dance captain, backstage staff, actors and, of course, the show’s star, the regal-yet-kind Stella James. “What’s important is to remember that it takes a team, a village, a family to put on a Broadway show and take care of the theatre.” Here is the bustle of theater life, the demands of rehearsals and the excitement of performance. And we are appropriately reminded that it is not just the performers but everyone from box office to backstage who make the magic.
Driving the story is the arrival of young and diminutive Jayne, the new understudy for the show’s child star, Amanda. Amanda is the epitome of selfish and self-absorbed; she is a bully and a manipulator. “Sometimes dreams come with terms and conditions. Sometimes dreams come with Amanda.” But Gavigan ultimately presents a dimensional character, whose harshness is rooted in a deep-seated insecurity.
What ensues in this enchanting work and how Lulu pursues her dream make for an eventful and engaging journey: “Because everyone — no matter what size or species — deserves to live their dream.”
While the book will be embraced by children (and adults) with a passion for theater, the lessons that are offered are universal and told in a way that all readers will embrace the joy that is both the heart of Lulu and Lulu the Broadway Mouse.
Recommended for middle school readers, “Lulu the Broadway Mouse” is available at your local Barnes & Noble bookstore; can be ordered at Book Revue in Huntington; and is online at Running Press Kids, Hatchette Book Group; Barnes & Noble; and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit iamjennagavigan.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Jenna_Gavigan.