Mirette, Journeymen, at the Storefront Theater. Musicals for children are tricky to pull off, and the team of Elizabeth Diggs (book), Harvey Schmidt (music), and Tom Jones (lyrics) is only partly successful in this 1998 endeavor. The heroine is a perfect role model for girls: the brave, resourceful Mirette (Heather Marie Johnson) lives in 1899 Paris and helps her widowed mother run their boardinghouse, home to an assemblage of jugglers, clowns, and dancers. Even though all the adults around her discourage it, Mirette works hard to master the art of the high wire.
Schmidt and Jones, the team behind The Fantasticks, have perhaps made Emily Arnold McCully's 1993 Caldecott-winning book Mirette on the High Wire too complex and dark for children. The opera singer (Cindy Sciacca) drinks; the beloved juggler (John Francisco) loses his job and might become homeless; and the famous tightrope walker who teaches Mirette his art, Bellini (a golden-throated Cruz Candelario), has flashes of deep cruelty. There's none of the circus's mad whimsy; instead Jones's weighty lyrics (gorgeously supported by Schmidt's music) address issues like artistic obsession and the fear of failure.
Director Frank Pullen is unable to lighten this material and create something suitable for children. Occasionally charming, this production has a riveting final scene. But it probably moves too slowly and raises too many troubling questions for fans of McCully's book.