CEDAR HILLS — My inaugural experience with the Creekside Theatre Festival is their production of The Frog Prince, a play for young audiences. Like the Festival itself, The Frog Prince is spunky, has its charms, but is also rough around the edges.
The Frog Prince is a stage adaptation written by David Mamet, based on the classic fairy tale. The story follows the fairy tale closely: a rude prince is turned into a frog after being cruel to a witch, and he can only break the spell and become human again if a woman kisses him.
I appreciated that the director, Brooke Hess Grant, emphasized the theatricality of the story. At various points in the play, actors mingled with the audience, gave treats to children, and visibly changed the scenery. These touches showed children the things that a live theatrical production can provide experiences that television or movies can’t. Grant communicated the message of each scene clearly, with broad, unmistakeable blocking that the children I attended with could easily understand.
Michael Hess played the title character with a suitable mix of silliness and pathos. His performance was expansive, which was helpful in filling the large open amphitheater with his voice and for keeping the audience’s attention. Hess also showed distinctly his character’s growth and change as the prince gradually became less selfish. Jeanelle Long played Grace, the milkmaid who meets the frog and later breaks the spell. She had a sincere performance that had a sweet undertone in each of her scenes. Her gentle demeanor added a tenderness to the moment where she asks the prince to travel south with her.
Jordan Long portrayed the prince’s servingman, named Bill, suitably well, despite the difficulty of the role. (The character exists mostly so that the prince has somebody to talk to.) Bill’s loyalty throughout the play was nice and can serve as a discussion for parents about the importance of helping others. Finally, the witch, played by Anadine Marshall, was thoroughly fantastical in both her scenes, and her exaggerated old woman’s walk made children laugh as she mingled in the audience.
Though I can compliment the cast and director, I found the visual and technical elements of the play unimpressive. The outdoor space could benefit from some body or ambient microphones, especially when cast members were speaking quietly or moved upstage. I also wish that Grant’s costume design were more interesting, especially for the frog. I didn’t understand why he wore striped shorts and a tank top, and Bill’s costume seemed too generic to establish anything about his character. Finally, the prince’s final transformation scene was disappointing, as it merely consisted of stagehands (dressed as frogs) putting the prince’s human costume pieces on him.
Another problem with the play is the awkward dialogue. Mamet attempted to add humor and sophistication for adults in the audience, but most of it sounds clunky instead. (“In that same capacity, I beg your forgiveness for my precipitous departure.”)
The Frog Prince, though, is easily enjoyable for its target audience: children ages 5-10. Parents will like the lessons about loyalty and kindness that the play teaches. The acting and directing talent needed for an excellent production are present, but the tight budget and difficult dialogue prevents The Frog Prince from becoming an essential component of the Utah summer theatre season.
Donate to Utah Theatre Bloggers Association today and help support theatre criticism in Utah. Our staff work hard to be an independent voice in our arts community. Currently, our goal is to pay our reviewers and editors. UTBA is a non-profit organization, and your donation is fully tax deductible.