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The Adventures of Mr. Toad at Cloverdale Performing Arts

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The Adventures of Mr. Toad at Cloverdale Performing Arts

Reviewed by Malena Eljumaily

Yes, we're all busy this holiday season and who has time for a family outing to the theater? My advice is to make time to see The Adventures of Mr. Toad, a warm-hearted musical by Piers Chater-Robinson. Based, of course, on the 1908 classic The Wind in the Willows and playing for the next three weekends at Cloverdale Performing Arts Center.

Harrison Nixon - Yave Guzman - Joe DobbinsAs the show begins we are treated to a jaunty piano prelude from (live!) accompanist Sue Marcott, putting us into an upbeat toe-tapping mood to begin our adventure. First we meet Mole, played by 16-year-old Harrison Nixon, who would rather have a picnic by the river with his new friend Ratty (Yave Guzman) than do Spring cleaning. They soon meet up with Badger (Joe Dobbins) and eventually the man himself, Mr. Toad (Bret Palmer.)

All these animals are outfitted as proper Edwardian gentlemen in costumes designed by McKenzie Pepper. The make-up, designed by Alexandra Kyriakos, is pleasantly understated, just enough grease paint that we identify the animals, but not so much that they take on a cartoonish quality.

The villain of this piece is Weasel, played with delightful exuberance by Austin Schmidt, at turns, prancing and slithering around the stage followed by his weasel minion. The children, who portray not only weasels, but also a fox, a bunny, a quail, do a great job and look like they are truly enjoying themselves on stage. There is also a clever horse, made of two children, that pulls the cart Mr. Toad soon crashes in a ditch.

The set design is equal parts whimsy and practicality. I loved the use of the shadows in the Wild Wood to portray the menacing weasel clan as well as the above mentioned cart crash. A clever and creative way of doing it. As usual, director Yave Guzman inspires our imaginations. Thanks to his nimble use of space, lighting and sound effects The Adventures of Mr. Toad is a theater experience, not  just a show.

Mr. Toad's Adventure Weasels led by Austin Schmidt

The musical numbers are fun and the songs surprisingly good, with an infectious optimism that should be appreciated by the parents in the audience as well as the kids. I have seen several productions at the Cloverdal Performing Arts Center that were ostensibly for children, but wholly entertaining for adults, as well.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I will admit that as a child, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was my favorite ride at Disneyland. If I recall correctly, it was only a C ticket, and the lines were pretty short, so I went on it time after time. Perhaps that has influenced my appreciation of this production. But I think even the staunchest humbugs will have trouble keeping a smile off their faces as Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad sing and dance in front of Toad Hall.

 I've tried not to use the word fun too many times in this review, but it's been a difficult task. This wonderful musical production is just plain fun. Enjoy it while you can.

Running December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 at 7:30pm, December 4, 11, 18 at 2pm.  

Cloverdale Performing Arts Center

209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale CA 95425

http://www.cloverdaleperformingarts.com/