Frog Song At Here For Now Theatre
In a delightful change of pace, Stratford’s Here For Now Theatre is presenting Frog Song, an opera – yes, an opera! – for children and never has its tent theatre and its bucolic setting seemed more magical.
With a book by Taylor Marie Graham and music by William Rowson, Frog Song tells the tale of Navdeep (Priya Khatri) and Wyatt (Ben Skipper) who are participating in Camp Songbird on Bird Island, a musical camp for kids.
Priya is a self-assured over-achiever who is pegged by her BFF Riley (Darcey Baker), another camper, to win the camp’s annual song competition. Wyatt on the other hand is … well, Wyatt is kinda weird. Maybe it’s that he’s wearing a frog costume; maybe it’s that he walks around holding a hula hoop as if to prevent anyone from getting too close; but something tells us that Wyatt is different.
You see, as Wyatt puts it plaintively in song, “Once upon a frog, a boy was very afraid.”
The hyper-enthusiastic Jay (Derek Kwan), who runs the camp and who is never wrong (well, almost never) teams Wyatt with Navdeep, confident that she will bring him out of his shell.
Since Frog Song is something of a fairy tale as well as an opera, things aren’t quite that simple. There are challenges to face, not the least of which is a chorus of frogs (Megan Dart, Michael Neale, and Lucy Sanci) who can be adorable one moment and menacing the next.
There are lessons to be learned, too, about facing your fears and being kind to others before we can reach every fairy tale’s final destination: [SPOILER ALERT] a happy ending.
Director Liza Balkin has orchestrated all this with a light touch that makes ingenious use not just of Frog Song’s petite stage but the lush greenery and open skies behind it. Bonnie Deakin’s minimalist sets and costumes strike a nicely child-like note. In an inspired touch, Beth Kates has provided projections, including some of Michael Uhre’s artwork, for the tent’s ceiling.
One might expect a “children’s opera” like Frog Song to use simple bubble-gum music but William Rowson has composed a serious operatic score, as befits the music director of the Stratford Symphony Orchestra. For her part, librettist Graham shows keen insight into the angst that accompanies every kid’s journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance.
Kudos, too, to Frog Song’s mostly young cast, many at the dawn of their careers, who throw themselves into the action with relish and obvious commitment.
Priya Khatri makes an endearing Navdeep and Ben Skipper, who was such a hoot in Drayton’s It Runs In The Family last season, does a wonderful job of showing us Wyatt’s inner turmoil and the brittle shell he uses to protect himself.
Derek Kwan, who has perhaps the strongest voice in the company, is delightful as the rah-rah camp director.
Frog Song offers an all too rare opportunity to introduce pre-teens to the special magic that is opera. The kids at the show I attended were rapt.
Frog Song continues at the Here For Now Theatre, located behind the Stratford Perth Museum, though August 12, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Here For Now Theatre website.
(Image: Mark Uhre)
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