Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"A Year with Frog and Toad" Set to Open This Friday

Posted by Bruce Miller
Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV have been working in official strategic collaboration since July 1, 2001--just over ten years. While some may think of us as one company--both nonprofits have spent over a decade sharing a common staff--in several important ways our two theatres have maintained their individual identities throughout every day of the last 124 months. Barksdale and Theatre IV continue to operate with separate missions, Boards, seasons, budgets, assets, audits, development campaigns, and brands.

In some ways, it's hard to believe that our two theatres have been in courtship mode for over a decade and we've yet to bring our two theatres together. Chalk it up to devotion and commitment. In reality, the powers that be at Barksdale are so strongly in love with their legacy and mission to adult audiences, and the powers that be at Theatre IV are so completely dedicated to their legacy and mission to children, families and schools, everyone is still trying to find the right way and time to come together.

If and when the engagement is formally announced and the date of the wedding is set, "we" will be a new company with an unsurpassed commitment to adult audiences and an equally strong dedication to kids and education. If you look closely at nonprofit theatres around the nation, that profile is amazingly rare.

Our next demonstration of our belief in children, families and schools opens this Friday at Willow Lawn. A Year with Frog and Toad is itself unique, in that it was the first all-out children's theatre musical to be produced on Broadway, based of course on one of America's favorite series of children's books.

Arnold Lobel (1933 - 1987), creator of the Frog and Toad series, was one of our nation's greatest children's book authors and illustrators. He wrote and illustrated 30 books (two published posthumously), and illustrated an additional 42 books by other authors. His works include the beloved Frog and Toad series (1970 - 1979), plus Owl at Home (1975), Mouse Soup (1977), Fables (1980, Caldecott Medal winner), and Ming Lo Moves the Mountain (1982).

Willie Reale, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical, is a playwright and lyricist who often works with his brother Robert. He is a major creative force behind the 2009 revival of The Electric Company on PBS. In 1981, he founded NYC's 52nd Street Project, a nonprofit that brought inner-city children together with professional theatre artists to create new work. In 1992, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship ("genius grant") for that accomplishment. In 2006, he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for his lyrics for Patience from the film of Dreamgirls.

Robert Reale, Willie's brother who created the music for A Year with Frog and Toad, is a composer with a long list of credits in film, TV and theatre, creating the original music heard on Good Morning America, Primetime, 20/20, and Inside Edition. In 2003, the Reale brothers received a Tony Award nomination for their score for A Year with Frog and Toad.

Arnold Lobel died when he was 54 years old, and his daughter, acclaimed scenic designer Adrianne Lobel, committed herself to extending the life of his work. She had graduated from the Yale School of Drama, where she studied with iconic designer Ming Cho Lee. While continuing her own career creating world-renowned sets for Arena Stage, the Guthrie Theatre, Houston Grand Opera, PBS Great Performances, and the Metropolitan Opera, she posthumously published the final two books in her father's beloved Frog and Toad series. She also commissioned the musical based on her father's characters. She designed the sets, basing her work on her father's original creations.

The musical was workshopped in 2000 at Vassar College, and later produced by the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. It transferred to Off-Broadway at the New Victory Theatre in 2002, playing to good reviews and sold-out houses.

A Year with Frog and Toad opened on Broadway on April 13, 2003. The show is credited with breaking new ground by bringing professional children's theatre to Broadway for the first time. It's success enabled the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis to become the first children's theatre in the nation to receive the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2003.

We hope you'll join us for this delightful show--truly a holiday treat for the whole family.

Richmond is blessed to host visits from touring productions of family shows like Wicked, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. We are equally blessed, and I believe this with all my heart, to be the home town of a major professional theatre that cares just as much about children and education as we do about national caliber productions for adults.

Using any and all criteria for excellence, The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite productions of the year last season. I'm really looking forward to spending some time this holiday season with some of the most lovable and cherished animals you'll find on any Virginia stage.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jackie Jones Explains Why the Artsies Were So Much Fun

We recently received this very gracious email from veteran Richmond actress Jackie Jones. It's filled with so much of Jackie's signature joie de vivre that we asked her if we could post it here. We think the spirit of her note captured the evening's excitement perfectly. If you were unable to attend, this is what the Artsies felt like.

To my Friends at Theatre IV,

Please accept my thanks for hosting the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards 2011. Also, please pass along my appreciation to all the staff involved. I had a ball!

I was grateful that the strike after our final Cat on a Hot Tin Roof performance ended early enough for me to curl my hair. Yet all the hairspray that kept it together even with the force of Big Daddy’s hand every performance of Cat was not enough to help when a man fell into me and uncoiled my coif.

Some of my favorite RTCCA 2011 moments were:

~ The valet parking! Wow, they were expedient.

~ Being escorted to my seat by the stunning peach-satin-clad usher who only hours before had been striking at Firehouse. Annella Kaine was our Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sound tech and I forgot that she might have a life outside of a dark theatre and her crew blacks.

~ Telling the man next to me to stop texting (and he did … and then moved at intermission!).

~ Audra Honaker’s bird (see photo of Audra and Jackie at top of post). Kim Jones Clark’s golden mermaid dress. Terry Snyder’s authentic Davy Crockett scarf. Everyone’s gorgeous self.

~ Chatting with Regina Carreras before the Awards began, peeking back at her when Morrie Piersol won her necklace, and looking forward to Carol Piersol wearing that necklace to the next big soiree!

~ Bryan Harris and his amazing RTCC band. Thank you to the playbill compilers for naming Stephanie, Craig, Steve and Bryan in the playbill.

~ The script. Funny and insider and what a kick.

~ David Janeski’s imitation of John Porter!

~ Terry Snyder’s thank you song and everyone snapping with him.

~ His students’ loving tribute to Ernie McClintock and then later, J Ron Fleming’s proud proclamation that without Ernie’s inspiration, J Ron would not have become an actor.

~ Michael Gooding’s heartfelt swell and Don Warren’s fond remembrance of Jay and his laugh. During the pre-show reception, Don noted how many of us wearing purple and commented that it was Jay’s favorite color.

~ The audience response to what we thought was the end of “9 People’s Favorite Thing” (see photo of cast above and to the left) and after a forever ovation, the tag to their song--especially since [title of show] did eventually tie for Best Musical!

~ Scott Wichmann’s eloquent toast to his challenges of the past year and the new ones to come.

~ The concept of The People’s Choice Award: more Fundraising and FUN-raising.

~ 2 Men / 1 Dream - starring Jason Roop and Jack Lauterback and featuring caricatures of a few favorite Richmond directors and choreographers played by themselves. Side note: Frances Wessells was my choreographer for Youth on Stage in 1974. We toured the state; her life experience and wisdom made a profound impact on me. I realize now as I type that even then she was further along in her life than I am now in my own! Maybe I still have time to catch up.

I missed the grand promenade of the RTCC members from Artsies of old. I hope next year the powers-that-be will reinstate that segment so we can see all the critics standing together and applaud their efforts to put on this wonderful celebration of our theatre community, for bestowing nods and awards which stroke our egos, offer terrific marketing tools for the companies and individuals, most especially for supporting the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund - and of course providing a perfect “theatre prom” to don my purple sparkly dress, new rhinestone combs, and University of Richmond loan of my Big Mama necklace, courtesy of Heather Hogg.

The evening went by in a flash! My one suggestion might be to include phonetic spellings for the more unusual names to spare the presenters/hosts embarrassment. Oh, and also for the mics to be a bit louder or more well-placed--there were some presenters who were hard to hear. I mention this hint for presenters not used to hard copy scripts: perhaps they should consider either marking their cues with tabs OR carrying their scripts to follow along. (I guess that was three suggestions. Oh well, good things come in threes.)

I can hardly wait for next year.


Jackie Jones