MAGNA — The Frog and I is an original work by Jake Anderson, the executive director of the Empress Theatre. So, I had no idea what to expect from the show. Knowing the Empress Theatre’s reputation for family entertainment, I brought along my two reviewing assistants: my young daughters who actually are a lot more difficult to please than I am.
The Frog and I is loosely based on the fable of the Frog Prince, where a prince is cursed to be a frog until true love’s kiss can return him to his natural state. In this version the cunning witch, Grizzelda, played by Reeve Sikalis, curses a young baby who grows to be a life size frog, played by Tom Roche. The story also features a Princess who is under a time constraint to marry based on law. Princess Briar, played by Morgan Nielsen, however, does not desire any of the princes that are brought before her. Included in the supporting cast are quite a few minor characters from different stories, such as Tweedle Dum, played by Zach Linnett, Lady Cinderella, played by Kandace Keddington, and several princes, all portrayed by Sam Birge.
One of my favorite characters, though, was Old Mother Hubbard, who was played so well by Melina Garcia that in many of her scenes she often stole. Garcia’s facial expressions were amusing and entertaining, as was her physical comedy and comedic timing. She served as the family cook, often making up new recipes that sounded frightening rather than appetizing, and to hear her describe them was quite a treat for the audience. She stayed in character while dancing and singing, and was indeed a joy to watch. Another minor character that stood out was Princess Drab, played by Ryann Ruiz, a princess that a personality challenge. Ruiz was able to hold on to such a character with such a force that I was left in stitches whenever she spoke. Finally, Sikalis was so effective in portraying Grizzelda that as I write this review, I can hear my daughters giggling in the background, singing her same song and pretending to be witches. One way I can tell if a children’s show is memorable is when I see my children mimicking what they saw a day later, so Sikalis’s performance was a success.
The story was quaint and cute, like many traditional fairy tales. However, popular, modern day music had been woven into the show in an interesting way. This lead to amusing choreography, especially by characters such as Old Mother Hubbard. Choreographer Emily Preston obviously had a fun time developing the choreography for this show, and I especially enjoyed the way she utilized the small theatre space. My three year old found it quite thrilling to discover that a cast member happened to be singing and dancing right next to her.
When children’s theatre is done well, it can entertain as well as development the imagination. The Empress’s production of The Frog and I did just that. It was a silly, even campy, show that allows families to bring their young children to experience the magic of live theatre. Director Rebecca Walk handled the elements of the show, from set, to lighting design, to costumes and staging, well enough to build a wonderful visual story while still keeping it simple enough to allow the magic of imagination work. The cast worked together to keep the pace fast and keep even the smallest guests entertained. I have taken my older daughter to performances and have known of her ability to enjoy the theatre, however I was apprehensive concerning my youngest. But just under 4 years old, she was able to stay attentive during the whole performance, and the entire drive home she talked about wanting a pet frog. Therefore, I can highly recommend Empress’s production as a great family show, as long as you are able to say no to request for a pet amphibian. The Frog and I is not Shakespeare, but it is an excellent night out where little ones can learn that not all entertainment involves cartoons, YouTube, overpriced popcorn, and 3D glasses.