.Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Spreckels

Classic children’s tale theatrically told 

Large scale, family-friendly theater returns to the North Bay with the Spreckels Theatre Company production of The Wind in the Willows. 

Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame adapted Kenneth Grahame’s classic 1908 novel in collaboration with composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe. The musical runs at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park through May 19.

The inquisitive and perpetually positive Mole (Sean O’Brien) happens upon the river loving Rat (Nelson Brown), and a fast friendship develops. Their mutual acquaintance, the speed-loving Toad (Tim Setzer), invites them to Toad Hall. They are soon gallivanting about in Toad’s horse-drawn caravan when a new-fangled automobile causes them to crash. 

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Toad becomes obsessed with cars and is soon responsible for a number of wrecks and close-calls. Mole and Rat seek the help of Badger (Mary Gannon Graham) in breaking Toad of his dangerous obsession. Toad responds by stealing a car, getting arrested and being sent to prison. Soon Toad Hall is occupied by the Chief Weasel (Keene Hudson) and his minions. What will become of Toad and Toad Hall?

Director Sheri Lee Miller has mounted a bright and colorful production that lovers of the source material should enjoy. The show is well cast with O’Brien and Brown both marvelous as the fast friends. Setzer gives a very animated performance as Toad, and Mary Gannon Graham is, as always, a rock of stability as Badger.

There’s strong work from the ensemble, with special notice of the lovely vocal work done by Ted Smith and Katie Foster as Mr. and Mrs. Hedgehog. 

The costuming by Donnie Frank was on-point without being excessive, and Eddy Hansen’s lighting design was key in communicating some of the tougher-to-stage action.   

At the opening night performance, sound was an issue. Most musicals have the advantage of audience familiarity with the songs. That is not the case here, which means hearing the lyrics delivered with crystal clarity is important.  Many of Setzer’s songs in particular were overpowered by the orchestra. Either his mic needs to come up, or the orchestra needs to come down.

Sound issues led to the show actually being stopped mid-second act. Kudos to the cast for picking it right back up.

What The Wind in the Willows is really about has been debated for decades. The focus of this production is clearly a celebration of friendship. No matter what, “A Friend is Still a Friend.”

Not a bad lesson for us all. 

‘The Wind in the Willows’ runs through May 19 in the Codding Theater at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder La., Rohnert Park. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $10 – $20. 707.588.3400. spreckelsonline.com


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