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Review: 'Wind in the Willows' is utterly charming

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- The Alban Arts Center's presentation of "The Wind in the Willows" is nothing short of delightful. Full of whimsy, with a elaborate, beautifully designed set and fanciful costumes, the production is two hours of theater magic at its finest.

With a cast of more than 40 characters (the majority of whom are children), it's an epic undertaking, and director Adam Bryan should be highly praised for pulling off quite the spectacle. The production is lovely, charming and fully engaging.

The stage is built in many levels and extends out both sides of the theater to the back of the room, above the audience. Being submerged in and surrounded by the action easily transports the audience completely into the worlds of River Bank and Wild Wood.

If you are not familiar with the original 1908 tale written by Kenneth Grahame, the story revolves around the adventures of a cast of forest creatures that walk and talk, drive automobiles and boats, go on picnics, commit crimes and hold trials.

The four main characters, Mole (Kyle Casto), Rat (Loren Allen), Toad (Daniel Calwell) and Badger (John Johnson), form a long-lasting bond that sees them through many seasons. Their friendship weathers many obstacles as they prove that true friends stick together through thick and thin.

Mole is adorable in his short pants and round, thick spectacles. He crawls out of his hole one day to find adventure at the River Bank, where he meets an unlikely friend in Rat who invites him into a rowboat for a picnic. The pair quickly form an attachment, sharing stories of life and poetry.

Later they encounter Toad, whose antics almost steal the show. Boisterous, wealthy and addicted to speed, Toad is on the constant lookout for the next, newest, fastest form of transportation. This love of the thrill leads him to purchase an automobile, which causes all sorts of harrowing experiences for the trio.

After Toad gets himself in quite a jam with his automobile obsession, Mole and Rat seek the counsel of Badger. Badger is by far the most charming character of the entire production. Jolly and refined, he wears a waistcoat and a pocket watch, has mutton-chop sideburns and speaks in a deep grumbling, growling voice. He is lovely, like a cross between Santa (whom Johnson also portrays during the Christmas season) and a large, fluffy tomcat.

Overall, the entire cast is precious. The production is like being sucked into your favorite children's story. Like with any production featuring so large a cast and so many children, there are some lost lines spoken into the walls and some fidgeting during group scenes, but this really does not detract from the magic of the production.

There are a few sinister, dark scenes. The weasels and ferrets, led by Chief Weasel (Nikki Williams), are funny but menacing. However, it is very much a family-friendly production. At almost two hours, 20 minutes, it might be a tad long for younger children, but there is a short intermission.

This show is delightful and should not be missed.

Remaining performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Aug. 30 and 31 and 2 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 1. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and children 12 and under. Due to the stage setup, seating is limited, so advance reservations are suggested. Call 304-721-8896. Alban Arts Center, 65 Olde Main, St. Albans.

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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