San Juan children are swapping the island’s foxes and black-tailed deer for different woodland creatures in a tale that proves anything is possible with friendship.
From Nov. 15-18, 47 children, in grades K-6, will perform the musical “The Wind and the Willows,” at the San Juan Community Theatre.
When Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger team up, both adventures and life lessons abound in this adaptation of a century-old book by Kenneth Grahame.
Each animal embodies a unique personality, that parodies those of grown-ups in a play devoid of adult characters. Instead, 10 parents take over as scenery in the English countryside, including the trees of the story’s Wild Wood.
Shy Mole had never heard of a river until meeting audacious Rat, played by fifth-grader Sophia Ramirez. She and fifth-grader Rylend Merritt, as Mole, sway upon the river’s rocky waves while singing of the joys of “messing about in boats.” Later, boastful Toad, played by sixth-grader Kira Clark, sings of her affinity for fast cars and reckless driving while doing the Charleston.
The songs, explained music director Jamie Mountford, have a 1920s’ flair.
“The music drives the performance,” she said. “It’s important to engage the audience, engage the kids.”
A dozen songs will be performed in the roughly hour-and-a-half-long play, which also includes a tango by a line of stoats. Mountford’s daughter, eighth-grader Anabelle, took over as choreographer for the tap dancing numbers. Ten youth, from seventh grade and up, also help backstage.
For director Penelope Haskew, the play brings back long-standing memories. She recalls listening to her parents read “The Wind and the Willows” to her as a child, and empathizing with Mole’s quest to find his former home in the Wild Woods. When she noticed the scene was missing from the adaptation, she added it.
“I remember that feeling of homesickness on the school bus when you passed by your house, even if you wanted to go wherever you were going,” she said. “There is this sense of home calling you and drawing you in.”
The theme of home re-emerges throughout “The Wind and the Willows,” where the four friends’ rambunctious escapades juxtapose their inclination for domesticity. When their long journey comes to an end, home, the companions discover, is not determined by the place you are, but the company you keep.
The fable, as well as the morals it teaches, are timeless, said Haskew, for both kids and their parents.
“Children will be interested to see their peers acting, … singing and dancing … and how the story develops,” she said. “Adults will enjoy seeing the familiar story and how these particular kids and adults tell [it].”
How to Go
WHAT: “The Wind in the Willows” musical.
WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17; 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18.
WHERE: San Juan Community Theatre, Whittier Theatre.
COST: $18 for adults, $10 student reserved, $5 student rush at the door and “pay what you can” on Thursday.
INFO: 360-378-3210, www.sjctheatre.org.