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With modern enhancements to a classic fairy tale (Frog Prince, by Brothers Grimm), this coming-of-age story holds lessons for us all. Packed with humor, Croaker, The Frog Prince Musical opens with the entire company singing the super-catchy “It’s Your Birthday Day.” Everyone is dancing joyously without a hint of foreshadowing of what’s to be. Princess Acrimonia, played by Christie Jackson (last seen in Gypsy), first lets on about not being a good princess. Shortly after, we learn that this spoiled princess is ruling the castle. Described as “one hot princess mess,” her costume is eccentric, bright, and a little reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper. Jackson’s beautiful voice is a clear standout.
Queen Helene (played by Kathy Halenda) is also not what she seems, switching between a doting wife to King Arnold and a devious mother looking out for her own. (At this point, my 10-year-old whispered to me that he thought she was evil. When I asked him why he thought that, he said, “I heard the rumors. And that is the story, you know.”) Helene truly owns her power as she brilliantly changes between Good Queen and Evil Queen – sometimes mid-sentence. Her strong voice is sassy and confident, with impeccable timing.
The perfect chemistry between Mark Persinger as King Arnold and Halenda is a gift for the audience. The talented Persinger plays an honorable king who is committed to serve his Kingdom and rule with a kind heart. No stranger to Virginia Rep (with roles in Treasure Island, Tartuffe and South Pacific), Alexander Sapp plays Croaker. With a captivating voice, he shines throughout the performance (whether he wore his crown or not), conveying humor, sadness, hope, and joy.
Austin Taylor Smith, Caleb Wade, and Todd Patterson masterfully make up the frosse (AKA frog posse). Although of course, the group complements the entire cast, the talent of the frosse is obvious with outstanding acting, singing, and dancing. In particular, the actors’ expressions looked, well, fit for a frog, with humorous songs about amphibians and humans.
A trio of Ladies-in-Waiting (Cariel Hughes, Grey Garrett, and Brianne Oltermann White) exudes talent, whimsy, and fun. This group also showcases their skill set as the entertaining and groovy Disco Divas. Last, but most certainly not least, Geoffery Morgan (Royal Page) lends his hilarious and sarcastic bent to all the royal happenings.
The costumes by Jeanne Nugent are creative, fun, and spot-on. Although the foundation for costuming is Renaissance style, a closer examination reveals fun ties to the 1960s and 1970s. A stellar, polished production, it is no wonder that the musical was developed by Richmond’s own, Debra Clinton (director/choreographer/book and lyrics) and Jason Marks (music/orchestrations/music director). Clinton and Marks teamed up to write this musical for children’s theatre through the School of Performing Arts in Richmond (SPARC) several years ago, and then decided to adapt it to the professional actor scene. The result is absolutely phenomenal.
The overall message of the play – finding yourself, your true purpose, using your gifts for good instead of evil, and being kind to one another – makes for an empowering story. My 10-year-old and 8-year-old boys were spellbound throughout the production and even had some great belly laughs. After the show, my family of four had an animated conversation about the musical and learned that we all had different favorite characters – Croaker, Princess Acrimonia, Queen Helene, and the Disco Divas. Several hours later, my boys were still singing refrains from the musical numbers – passing a tough test for an original musical.
Croaker, The Frog Prince Musical is a hit for all ages. There were many grownups in the audience, sans kids. And I can see why. I might just go see it again – it was that groovy. Suggested for ages six and up, Croaker, The Frog Prince Musical runs through April 15 at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. The performance includes smoke and strobe effects.
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