Charming ‘wind in the willows’ breezes into the box
By MARILYN JOZWIK
Published March 5, 2019
While it’s easy for most people to think of their cats and dogs as almost human, it’s a little harder to imagine a mole, badger, toad, fox or weasel as such.
But in the charming “The Wind in the Willows,” based on the 1908 children’s book by Kenneth Grahame, it just doesn’t seem a stretch to consider these denizens of the woods as having humanity. Add Julian Fellowes’ (“Downton Abbey”) clever writing, with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and you have an absolutely delightful musical presented by The Box Theatre Company in Oconomowoc.
The Box owners, Allison Chicorel and Timothy Barnes, direct the show, a Wisconsin premiere. Barnes stars as the boastful, irresponsible Toad, who has a fetish for “motorcars,” and ends up in jail after stealing one, putting himself and friends in quite a pickle. For her part, Chicorel, besides handling the choreography and vocal direction, plays opposite Barnes in one scene. The two are always entertaining.
Barnes sets the stage for his reckless, arrogant Toad in “The Amazing Mr. Toad,” in which he brags, “Mother Nature must have crowed when she made the marvelous Mr. Toad.” Barnes is big and brash, belting and bellowing as he brow beats and bumbles.
This show features some lovely tunes that the mostly kid cast performs beautifully, as well as some really nifty dancing that is equally effective.
There is just one other adult in the show, Connor O’Hara, who plays Rat, pairing up wonderfully with Gabriel Hagedorn’s Mole. Rat and Mole become best friends, with O’Hara’s laid-back Rat character complementing Hagedorn’s feistier Mole. The two are a delightful duo, with nice vocals and characterizations. Hagedorn really engaged the Saturday night audience with facial expressions and body language throughout.
The show has many charming scenes as Rat and Mole try to keep Mr. Toad from his dangerous obsession. Rat tells Mole that “Toad is a force of nature,” while Mole admires his newfound friend, telling Rat, “If only I had your brain.”
Mole sets off to find the lost daughter (Calleigh Mills) of Mrs. Otter (Katherine Rogers), which takes him through some dangerous Fox territory in the woods, and gets an assist from Badger (Jack Rankin). While Mr. Toad is in jail, the Chief Weasel (Ryan Vanselow) and Lesser Weasel (Grace Scott), along with the evil Foxes, have taken over Toad Hall with Portia as prisoner … and soon-to-be supper. But after all Rat and Mole have gone through, has Mr. Toad learned any lessons?
The kids have clearly had fun with the show, creating some beyond-cute scenes such as “A Hedgehog’s Nightmare” with its warning, “The motorcar (Mr. Toad’s conveyance of choice) is a nightmare for a hedgehog.” Audrey Cairns, Aiden Glor and Molly Flint play the Hedgehog family as they try to cross a busy highway, hanging on to each other with deadpan vigilance as vehicles whiz by. Flint is also a good choice for the pint-sized Prison Guard, who tries to subdue Mr. Toad by jumping on his back in a hilarious scene.
All characters do their best with a British accent, with varying results, but providing plenty to plant the show along the River Thames, where Grahame grew up.
The vocals are especially pleasing in this show, starting with a rousing “Spring” to open. Shortly following is “One Swallow Does Not a Summer Make,” featuring lovely three-part harmony by Eloise Slipper, Ivy Broder and Ellie Szczech. The Mice also sing sweetly in “The Wassailing Mice.”
Chicorel’s snappy choreography is on display in several numbers, especially the Act II opening featuring Vanselow, Scott, Julia Rady as Susie Stoat, and the Foxes. Really well done.
The off-stage orchestra, headed by Joshua Parman-Thao on piano, helped create the woodsy atmosphere with strings, flute, piccolo, as well as piano and keyboard.
If you go:
Who: The Box Theatre Company
What: “The Wind in the Willows”
When: Through March 24
Where: W359 N5920 Brown St., Oconomowoc
Info/Tickets: www.boxtheatreco.org; 262-560-0564