by Jen Brown
What happens to a frog when kissed by a Princess? It turns back into a Handsome Prince, of course! But not before he has learned to be gracious and good and a little less self-obsessed. Storybook Theatre productions always impart valuable messages to our little ones, and The Princess and the Frog was no exception. The show hammered home the importance of being beautiful on the inside rather than just on the outside, and everyone fully agreed with that.
First to grace the stage was the dazzling Hyacinth, played by Kristen Towers-Rowles. She introduced herself as the Fairy Who Lives in the Forest. Her vitality and charm were infectious, and from the moment she popped her head through the sunshine yellow backcloth, we were captivated. Her fine rendition of the song "Doin' Good" heralded the importance of good deeds and keeping promises. The audience, young and old alike, were happy to join in with the sentiments.
Next up was an extremely cute, yet vain, Prince. The first thing he did on arrival was to call upon two young audience members to hold his mirrors so that he could see himself better! Played superbly by Andrew James Villareal, the Prince particularly appreciated one of the young helpers pushing the mirror right into his face, giving him a perfect close-up.
Hyacinth complained that the Prince was a right Royal pain with all his Royal manicures and Royal responsibilities. To the delight of the crowd and with a "Hoppitty, Hippety and a Hee Hee Hee," she turned him into a frog. He was still extremely cute with a ribbit and a croak - but now with a sad, lonely heart. One of the many highlights of the show was the song "Croaks and Ribbits" when the audience was divided into two teams and the sides croaked and ribbited in competition with each other. No losers here!
Hyacinth advised the Frog Prince to get himself into the well to practice swimming. She warned the only way he would ever return to normal was to find a Princess who would kiss him. Our Prince duly took the plunge and we heard the 'splash' as he hit the water. Well done SFX department - all "splashes" and "boings" gratefully received!
Right on cue, the bored Princess and her father, the King, joined the proceedings. Our Princess, played, not at all boringly by Katie Katani, delighted the audience with her mundane manner, as did the antics of the very lovable King. Anthony Gruppuso gave a majestic performance and thrilled us with his vocal talent. Parents in the audience readily related to his lament about his daughter sitting in front of the Court Jester all day long.
The Princess confessed she was waiting for something to happen, but knew not what. So, she sang about her drab life, accompanied by a backing duo of frogs! The tremendous twosome brought the house down with a "ribbiting" performance. Top marks to the puppeteers!
The children (including my two granddaughters, Stella and Cynthia) loved the story, the larger than life characters, and particularly the cookies and juice in the intermission! It was wonderful to behold the joy and awe of the children, as they climbed up on the stage to join the players in this fun show. One lucky birthday girl and some of her party guests were invited up onstage for a banquet. The look on their little faces said it all. They clearly loved every minute of being a Royal Courtier.
As always, Storybook Theatre gave us an unforgettable afternoon with a sterling cast and crew. The wardrobe department excelled with colorful costumes, befitting each character wonderfully. The set design was simple but effective and there were a lot of unexpected and surprising props, i.e. cans of peas and spinach, which I believe were eventually going to the homeless.
A special mention must go to the authors Lloyd Schwarz and Hope Juber for a very jolly tale. Not forgetting Laurence Juber who co-wrote the catchy music and lyrics with Hope Juber. By anyone's standards, the show was a success and will, undoubtedly, enjoy a great run.
That being said, I would have enjoyed the show even more had Hyacinth not taken off her glasses at the very end. She did it to make herself look more attractive to the King, but isn't Hyacinth beautiful inside as well as out and isn't that the most important thing of all? It seemed a pity to undo the central message of the production by adding an unnecessary twist - especially as it was Hyacinth who was the messenger of this indisputable pearl of wisdom. Looks don't matter!
I know the intention of Storybook Theatre is to send out good, wholesome messages to our young theatre goers. I am a huge fan of theirs and have seen too many of their wonderful productions to ever doubt that. So, why not let the King insist Hyacinth keep her specs on! Let it be known he loves her exactly as she is! This is the message we should be taking home with us after a tremendous afternoon's entertainment. I hope in future showings of The Princess and the Frog, the King lets Hyacinth know she is nothing less than lovely. After all, it's what every young girl needs to hear - and Storybook Theatre needs to give us an even happier ending.
The Princess and the Frog is running now through July 8th at Theatre West.
Get your tickets here.
Photos One, Two, and Three by David P. Johnson.
Photos Four, Five, and Six by Jen Brown.