Mr. Toad is that friend who constantly has the next great idea and can’t seem to stick with one obsession for long. As Toad, Sasha Olinick is a force to be reckoned with. His eyes glaze over as he leaps from one all-consuming hobby to another — boat, caravan and, his eventual downfall and saving grace – the motorcar.
Based on the popular children’s book by Kenneth Grahame, Imagination Stage’s production and Janet Stanford’s direction leave plenty to the imagination of its rapt young audience as they watch Toad, who is conceited and a dangerous driver who narrowly avoids making his friends into road kill.
The talented and high-energy ensemble are Phillip Reid, Matthew Schleigh and Tia Shearer as rodents up to no good – and Maya Jackson as a plucky rabbit, and they are all delightful, especially when they are onstage at once. The cast’s ability to mime is a joy to watch. In one scene, they carefully ‘climb’ into the car one-by-one and, as the ignition starts, it looks like a motor is purring beneath them as their bodies jar in unison.
Michael Silversher’s score features short, snappy songs, including the rousing “When the Toad Came Home,” which involves shouting in honor of a reformed Toad. And “Poop Poop!” reflects the amphibian’s dizzying downfall, even after he has crashed his vehicle yet again. Toad feebly says the words, imitating the sound of his car horn. It’s very funny! Krissie Marty’s adept choreography has Toad leaping on and off the stage – and the ensemble passing around in looping turns the wheel that has come careening off Toad’s motorcar. An underwater scene is also well choreographed
Andrew F. Griffin dims the lights to a murky aqua as bubbling water sounds throughout the theatre until Toad bursts to the surface, gasping for air, and the lights come back like the sun. It’s so beautiful! Christopher Baine’s sound design evokes a wooded enclave in early twentieth century England as imagined by Set Designer Ethan Sinnott. Stalks of rigid willows stand at attention in the backdrop as if guarding the wood. When a wooden picnic table rolls out onstage carrying a carousing trio of rodents you can’t help but smile. Katie Touart’s costumes bring this lovable bunch to life. Badger (a touchingly commanding Doug Wilder) wears the tweed clothes of a dapper gentleman. Rat (a mustached Vaughn Irving) sports a cream colored suit. A pair of goggles rests on the head of Mole (Christopher Wilson). And Toad’s driving coat has a pattern that imitates his pebbly green surface.
Take the kids and grandkids to Imagination Stage and have a hoppin’ good time!
The Wind in the Willows plays through August 14th, at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda, MD. Purchase tickets online, or call the box office (301) 280-1660.
Running time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with a brief intermission.