Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Frog Bride is based on a Russian folk tale. It is the story of Yvan, youngest of three princes, whose father the King sends them forth to perform the ancient rites for finding royal wives: go to the woods, cut down a tree, fashion from the tree a bow and arrow, and shoot the arrow. Whoever returns each son's arrow is to be his bride. His older brothers find respectable brides, but poor Yvanwho, truth be told, takes shortcuts in carrying out the ritesends up with a frog as his bride. When the king reveals that he will choose one of his sons to as heir to the throne based on which of the brides is most successful at certain tasks, Yvan is despondent. Of course, Yvan's frog bride has a secret or two. Things go better than Yvan ever imagined, than turn to worse and finally ... well, I won't tell the end, but can report that Yvan matures from a shortcut-taking boy into a responsible man.
Gonzalez tells the story using voice and movements. His deep authoritative voice, calling to mind a bassoon, is perfect as narrator and to speak as the King. As the frog bride, he affects a breathy voice, high but not shrill, as if descended from a cloud. As Yvan and his brothers, as well as brothers' wives, he brings out twisty, nasal voices that sound like a group auditioning for "Jersey Shore." The incongruence of those voices provokes chuckles, while also setting the mundane sensibilities of those characters apart from the dignified King and Yvan's ethereal bride. Gonzalez moves with grace, his supple body taking on the expected posture of each character in turn, and especially is delightful when the three wives must compete as dancers. Several times, Gonzalez slips behind a screen and appears as a silhouetted figure, simply using his body's shape and movement to transmit his story.
Gonzalez does not do all the work of telling the story. His narrative is embellished by images from works by Russian born artist Wassily Kandinsky that evoke the environments Yvan encounters and the feelings he experiences. These are projected as videos designed by Matyas Keleman that move delicately over Kandinsky's forms and colors.
The tale is also told through music. Sergei Prokofiev's "Five Melodies for Violin and Piano" is given a burnished performance between scenes by pianist Gregory Theisen and violinist Elise Parker. Theisen and Parker also provide music and other sound effects during the scenes that re-enforce frustration, humor, confusion, and other feelings. Several of the musical interludes between scenes are long enough, but one might wonder if they are beyond the staying power of the youngest audience members. However, at the performance I attended, young and old alike were held in rapt attention as if a musical spell was being cast.
The Frog Bride melds together story, music, image, movement, and voice. It invites us to free our own imaginations and, in partnership with Gonzalez, Theisen, and Parker, experience the human comedy and tenderness of this tale. It is more about Yvan than about the magic-bearing frog bride, bringing home the truth that we find our greatest rewards when we delve into our true selves.
CTC suggests The Frog Bride is suitable for children in grades three and up, most likely because there are some dark passages. However, many younger children are brought to the Star Wars movies, which are far darker than The Frog Bride, so parental judgement is key. I certainly recommend this lovely and enchanting show for children with sufficient maturity, and for adults who appreciate whimsical storytelling presented with imagination, humor and beauty.
The Frog Bride continues at the Children's Theatre Company's Cargill Stage through February 28, 2016. 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 55404. Tickets are $10.00 - $48.00. Rush Tickets for unsold seats available two hours before each performance: $15.00. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets call 612-874-0400 or go to childrenstheatre.org. Recommended for grades 3 and up.
Written, Conceived and Performed by David Gonzalez; Director: Lenard Petit; Music by: Sergei Prokofiev and Daniel Kelly; Video Design: Matyas Keleman; Lighting Design: David Lander; Stage Manager: Karen Jenson
Cast: David Gonzalez (Storyteller), Elise Parker (Violin), Gregory Theisen (Piano, Keyboard)