Theater review: ‘Wind in the Willows’ Blows Sweetly as Ever at NCT

Wind in the WillowsA longtime friend appears sporting a new suit and you smile at the privilege and joy of seeing that confidant again. Memories flood your mind, but you’re also excited at the prospect of finding out what your friend is doing now.

That figuratively describes the lovely revival of The Wind in the Willows now wafting its way across the Ann Stahlman Hill Theatre stage at Nashville Children’s Theatre. The 1908 Kenneth Grahame novel – which overcame some dark origins and initial poor reception to become a beloved family classic – and some music from the canon of Gilbert and Sullivan certainly provide excellent source material, but NCT Producing Director Scot Copeland, Music Director Paul Carrol Binkley and their colleagues have made this take on Grahame’s tale a standout.

Counting the current production the show has been performed six times at Nashville Children’s Theatre since the 1974-75 season. Of course, not all of those were the version crafted by Copeland and Binkley, and even this revival has some changes from its last appearance in 2006. For one thing, as Copeland notes, you can actually see the wind in this production thanks to imaginative video projection designs by Colin Peterson. There’s also a lushly-forested set by Scott Boyd to savor this time around that’s beautifully lit by Bill Rios.

Much of the cast – sporting the exquisite costumes designed by Patricia Taber – will be familiar to those who saw it in 2006: Samuel Whited III as Toad, Rona Carter as Badger, Bobby Wyckoff as Ratty and Peter Vann as Mole as well as Henry Haggard once again playing Wiley Weasel and three other entertaining roles. Cori Anne Laemmel (Willa Weasel and the Gaoler’s Daughter) and Bralyn Stokes (a Pan-like Piper, the Constable and Winston Windsor-Weasel) round out Copeland’s picture-perfect cast.

This is the fourth time Whited has played Toad, the third time Carter has played Badger and the second appearance for Wyckoff and Vann as Ratty and Mole, so you’d expect them to be quite comfortable with their parts. Being the good actors they are, though, there’s no resting on laurels – each makes every word, song, gesture and moment quite fresh. And Haggard, Laemmel and Stokes keep right up with them.

Copeland and Binkley’s libretto and music are a mix of their own work and the light-opera larks of Arthur S. Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert. Sparkling melodies like those accompanying “With Cat-Like Tread” from The Pirates of Penzance, “Here’s a How D’Ye Do” from The Mikado and “May it Please You, M’Lud” from Trial by Jury along with original compositions and words for this version add just the right lyrical flourishes.

Misty Lewis once again lends her fun-loving choreography to the proceedings. I particularly enjoyed the lively movement she designed for Stokes’ Piper and Constable characters.

When I reviewed the 2006 production for The Tennessean I concluded by saying that “NCT has once again shown it’s the jewel in Nashville’s theater crown.” After viewing this sweet and superb revival of The Wind in the Willows that statement still holds true.

The Wind in the Willows runs through March 24 at Nashville Children’s Theatre (25 Middleton St.). After-words: Saturday, March 9 – After the 2 pm performance, the audience can engage in a Q&A with the cast and some of the show’s technical staff to learn more about the show’s creation. Open Captioning: Saturday, March 16 – The 2 pm performance will offer open captioning for patrons with hearing loss co-sponsored by Tennessee Captioning. Tickets (Adults: $19; Youths up to 17 and Seniors age 65 and up $12; Groups of 10 or more $11) can be purchased online at NashvilleCT.org or by phone at (615) 252-4675.

 

*Photo of (L to R) Rona Carter, Peter Vann, Samuel Whited III and Bobby Wyckoff by Dan Brewer courtesy Nashville Children’s Theatre.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).

Comments

  1. Thank you, Evans, for your kind words, but I should offer one correction. Due to his mother’s declining health, Scott Leathers (our resident lighting designer), was unable to design lights for this production, but the wonderful Bill Rios did an inspired job for us in his place.

  2. What a stroke of genius to let us see Rona becoming Badger!!! Thank you for the wonderful insight and great fun. Can’t wait to see the show.