Christ Episcopal Church School of the Arts Review
A Dual Critics Review by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
Strange animals are lurking on stage in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida at 400 San Juan Drive, where Christ Episcopal Church’s School of the Arts has opened a wonderful new musical. “Mr. Toad’s Wild Expedition” opened on April 26, and will run through May 7, 2017.
The musical is based on Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” which was first published in 1908. The book is in public domain, and a number of adaptations have been written. The talented Jason Woods wrote this splendid version on short notice. He had been expecting to direct “Once Upon a Mattress,” but wasn’t able to cast it because of limited response to scheduled auditions, and he didn’t have the time to pursue obtaining the rights to another production. What to do? Woods, working at a frenzied pace, wrote the script, wrote the songs, designed the set, designed props, and then cast and directed the show with the tireless assistance of many talented and dedicated volunteers. As we expected, the result was fabulous, which will come as no surprise to theater-goers who have seen “St. George and the Dragon” and “Peter Pan,” two highly-acclaimed musicals he also wrote and directed.
The story is that of Mr. Toad, played by the very much in-demand actor Alec Hadden, who had previously appeared in starring roles in “St. George” and “Peter Pan.” Toad is rich, single, and reckless, and the owner of Toad Hall, a huge mansion. In the past, he was obsessed with boating as a pastime, but not a responsible navigator; his boats ended up sinking. He then turned to roadsters, but wasn’t very successful with them either; seven car crashes and three hospital stays followed.
The play opens in the forest with Rat, played by well-known local actor Christopher Watson who was previously seen in “The Explorer’s Club” and “The Game’s Afoot” at Theatre Jacksonville, and Mole, played by Maya Pinfield, a Douglas Anderson rising senior who was in last year’s “Peter Pan.” They are hoping to change Mr. Toad’s ways with the help of Badger, portrayed by the fabulous Bob Shellenberger who is in his 58th year of acting (with 25 of them in Jacksonville). Their concern for Mr. Toad is not shared by Otter and her son Portly, portrayed by Karyn Carroll and her real-life son, Casey, who make their opinion known while singing the disparaging “Nincompoop,” one of the funniest songs in the show.
But before turning their attention to Mr. Toad, the would-be rescuers must contend with the Weasels, who are a bullying lot of thieving outlaws, led by Chief Weasel (Ashley Harper) and his assistants Egbert (Myles Hughes), Reggie(Jeanie Lijoi, and Weasel Dance Captain Summergrace Grable. The other menacing Weasels were Jenna Bourne, Lauren Albert, Halle Morrow, Mary Elizabeth Schubert, Amanda Stein, Jonathon Yates and Kirsten Yates. They were well-coordinated dancers and definitely crowd pleasers; a three-year-old sitting nearby told us she loved the weasels and wanted more appearances by them.
Others in the cast included veteran actor Larry Fairall and we impressed by the short but spirited performance of Addison Slater as his daughter. Vickie Dell appeared as the stylish Mother Mouse. The Magic Ensemble was led by Tyler Lewis, and included Chanel Boll, Natalie Decker, Chole LaPrade, Natalie Deck, and Jack Niemczyk, who also did a nifty bit as an unhappy motorist.
The rest of the cast included town residents, who kept the action advancing by moving furniture and props — trees, clocks, chairs — on and off. These hard workers included Macy Darkatsh, Katarina Goliber, Jake Watson Morris, Mardee Allcorn Morris, Kaz Sasaki, and Maura Surin Waller.
The many costumes were amusingly delightful thanks to the Costume Army, led by Pam Joiner, with assistance from enlistees Hope Adkins, Melinda Morgan, and Verne Shortell. Vehicles were built by Jason Woods with assistance from Krystal Woods, Matt Tompkins and Tom Fallon.
We will leave the exciting ending for you to discover. The play runs through May 7 (Thurs — Sat 7:30 to 9:00 pm, Sun 3:00 to 5:00 pm). Every seat is excellent and the principal characters are miked. You can order tickets at christepiscopalchurch.org. Don’t miss the fun!