by Lynn on July 30, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Here for Now Theatre, Stratford, Ont. Plays until Aug. 12, 2023.

Book by Taylor Marie Graham

Music by William Rowson

Directed by Liza Balkan

Set and costumes by Bonnie Deakin

Projection Design by Beth Kates

Movement direction by Patrice Bowler

Cast: Darcey Baker

Priya Khatri

Derek Kwan

Ben Skipper

Frog Song Chorus:

Megan Dart

Michael Neale

Lucy Sanci

Charming, sweet, funny and thoughtful.

The Story and production. Pre-teens, Navdeep (Priya Khatri) and her friend Riley (Darcey Baker) are going to Camp Songbird, a music camp for kids who love music of every kind.  Both girls are beautiful singers and very excited to be going to the camp. The camp has a singing competition for the best performance of a song. They hope to win.

There is one problem: Wyatt (Ben Skipper). Wyatt is odd. He’s a misfit who doesn’t even try to fit in. He wears a frog costume and has a hula hoop around his middle which he holds like a security blanket. In its way it protects him by keeping people at a distance. As Wyatt, Ben Skipper is a mix of insecurity, timidity and pushiness, almost daring someone to try and be friends with him.  He’s bossy; always asks questions and doesn’t answer anyone’s questions to him. He carries a book of fairy tales with him that has special meaning to him. Wyatt obviously has his problems but won’t let anybody ‘in’ to help him. To make matters worse, Jay (Derek Kwan), who runs Camp Songbird, has paired Navdeep and Wyatt for the song competition. Navdeep is disappointed.

Jay is a flamboyant, always smiling man who wears flipflops, shorts. a vest, shirt, bow tie and a gossamer floral dressing gown. He is constantly fanning himself with a formal fan. He told Navdeep to try to understand Wyatt, have compassion for him and help him because he has issues. He thought she would be a good pairing with Wyatt. Jay is one caring, compassionate perceptive person, and all of that goodness and cheer of Jay is brought out in Derek Kwan’s exuberant performance. And he has a wonderful, strong tenor voice to boot.

Director Liza Balkan’s production is full of wit and whimsy that would attract the imagination of any child or adult they are chaperoning. Liza Balkan uses the space inside the tent beautifully and outside in nature, with a natural enthusiasm.  Playing on the name of the camp-Camp Songbird–there are cut outs of birds and other forms of nature all over the tent where the opera is being performed.  Hanging from the trees outside the tent are multi-coloured cut-out parrots.

Needless to say, frogs factor heavily in the story and the production. Navdeep is bedeviled by a trio (chorus?) of “imaginary” frogs. Whyatt is dressed in a frog’s suit. The book of fairy tales that Whyatt clutches references the Princess and the Frog story, in which a princess must fall in love with and kiss the frog to release the prince hidden inside.  The mighty Frog Song Chorus leap and jump around the space (kudos to choreographer/movement director Patrice Bowler). The Frog Song Chorus wear green baseball caps with bulging eye-balls affixed to the top. The chorus of frogs ‘ribbet’ and croak for effect.  Later the chorus will wear baseball caps that are adorned with feathers and bird paraphernalia changing them into chirping birds. Bravo to designer Bonnie Deakin.    

Writer, Taylor Marie Graham is no stranger to writing for a young(ish) audience. She wrote about teens in her Fringe thriller play Corporate Finch, and now she is writing for pre-teens in Frog Song. This is not a rendering of the Princess and the Frog fairy tale. It’s much deeper than that. It’s a work that explores concerns of kids such as: fitting in, yearning, friendship, respect, being brave enough to be oneself and being fortunate to have others who see and value your worth. She has a keen facility with language and expression. One of the recurring lines in the opera is sung by Wyatt: “Once upon a frog, a boy was very afraid.” In one simple line, she conjures the confusion of Wyatt.  

Taylor Marie Graham and her equally brave creative partner composer William Rowson have created a kid’s opera that tackles subjects that occupy young minds, and it does it with wit, humour, kindness, intelligence and respect.

Comment. It’s been noted frequently of late that audiences for theatre and opera are diminishing. It’s alarming. Perhaps the gifted artists who created Frog Song and the wonderful Here for Now Theatre who are presenting it have found a solution: start a person young to love the arts, theatre, opera etc. and you will have them for life.  

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Plays until Aug. 12, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission)

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