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Theater Review: The Frog Prince

PC: Jack Grace
Derek Nakagawa’s production of “The Frog Prince” at the ProArts Theater in Kihei is the kind of show that works perfectly for its audience of wide-eyed keiki and their parents. This is children’s theater done right and with real affection. Nakagawa wrote and directs this witty “fractured fairy tale,” which is stuffed with laughs and flies by at a nearly 30-minute running time.

A manservant named Henry (played by Scott Spring) narrates the tale, in which he witnesses athe spoiled, child-like Prince George (Frances Tau’a) fail at his attempts to woo Betty (played by Heidi Turner). A fiendish witch named Aunty Pasta (played by Vinnie Linares) tricks the Prince into digesting a potion that transforms him into a tiny, talking frog. Although it appears the Prince is doomed to a life of lily pads and bug munching, his gentle friendship with the kind and very patient Mary Jane (played by Juliet Moniz) just might save him.

It’s easy to do children’s theater the wrong way and lose your audience: if it’s too syrupy and childish, you’ll lose the goodwill of grownups immediately.

On the other hand, if it’s presented in a clearly condescending, kids will detect that too and squirm in their seats. What’s special about this show is how it wisely and cleverly caters to both audiences, who will presumably relish a brisk, sweet and very funny fairy tale.

Spring is very charming as the show’s narrator and key witness. Turner and Moniz both winningly play the very different ladies who play a pivotal role in the Prince’s life. Linares is really spectacular as the witch; I initially didn’t recognize the veteran actor, who managed to get a laugh from me just about every time he opened his mouth (he also has a killer cackle).

The talking frog is conveyed through a striking prop, which Tau’a visibly manipulates on stage. The approach absolutely works- the puppet (sporting red and black eyes and a shiny crown) is cute enough to hold the audience’s attention and Tau’a’s nuanced performance and vocal adjustment creates an endearing character.

The adorable set by Nakagawa evokes storybook illustrations and the colorful costumes by Sarah Loney are also beautiful and immersed me into the story. While the tale is about the value of a first kiss, Nakagawa’s script never settles for being corny or simply cute. There’s a lot of sharp one-liners (“Who wants warts on their lips?”) and welcome but not overdone pop culture references. There’s also some agreeably silly music numbers interspersed throughout this short and delightful production.

“The Frog Prince” gave my funny bone a thorough workout and will likely have the same effect on everyone else. Its more than up to the task of keeping keiki and their parents equally enchanted.There are moments throughout that show I still remember that make me smile and snicker as I write this.

The Frog Prince is playing at the ProArts Playhouse at the Azeka Shopping Center on December 9-23rd, Saturdays at 10 AM and 1PM, Sundays at 10 AM and 12PM, and December 22nd at 7PM.  Tickets are available at www.proartsmaui.com or by calling 808-463-6550.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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