January 19, 2006


 Frog and Toad

Chicago Children’s Theatre makes a big splash with its inaugural production, “A Year With Frog and Toad.” The award-winning musical adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s charming books is a treat for all ages. Fast paced and funny, the show illustrates the ups and downs of friendships with great music, talented actors and engaging special effects.

Even without knowing the story, it took only a few minutes for my 5-year-old to buy into the world the play created, especially given the fantastic sets, creative costumes and realistic sound effects, provided mostly by live musicians.

The story takes Frog and Toad through the four seasons. They swim, tell scary stories and even sleigh ride. The three-person supporting ensemble performs a variety of roles including birds, a turtle, a mouse and a hilarious snail-mail carrier.

But as you might guess from the name, the play is all about Frog and Toad and relies heavily on the talents of the two lead actors. Bradley Mott is outrageously funny as the high-strung Toad, sending everyone in the audience into fits of laughter with his elastic facial expressions and exaggerated line deliveries. Joseph Anthony Foronda anchors Frog with playful dignity and makes the play’s moral lessons easy to swallow.

Part of the mission of this new theater is to provide family entertainment on a grand scale, giving its shows Broadway-style production values. And it is remarkable how the theater achieves this. Moving waters, blossoming flowers, falling leaves and dancing snowflakes are some of the fantastic effects that take the production up a notch.

At one hour and 45 minutes (including a 15-minute intermission), this show is best for ages 5 and up. The second act story of the terrible and giant frog was intense and a little too scary for some of the little kids on a recent Sunday afternoon, but overall, Director Henry Godinez has found the perfect balance to appeal to audiences of any age.

While you’re there, check out the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s interactive frog-and-toad displays in the theater lobby. It makes pre-show and intermission more fun.  Alena Murguia, mom of Patrick, 5, Connor, 3 and Matthew, 1, Berwyn “A Year With Frog and Toad.” Goodman Theatre—Owen Theatre. 10 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. 6:30 p.m. Friday. 10 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday. 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Through March 5. $17-$38. 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. (312) 443-3800, www.goodman-theatre.org.


Editor’s note: Tickets are two-for-one at the Target Family Matinee Series, 3:30 p.m. each Sunday.

 The Boxcar Children

Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden knew about unfortunate events long before Lemony Snicket came along.

The Alden orphans, aka the Boxcar Children, are a kinder, gentler precursor to Snicket’s very popular book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, about Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire.

The Aldens were brought to literary life more than 60 years ago by author Gertrude Chandler Warner. They have been brought to the stage by playwright Barbara Field and the local theater company Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences.

“The Boxcar Children” is a lovely 90 minutes for children who know these beloved books. I’m not sure it is as engaging for those who haven’t read the books, which follow the orphans as they set up house in a railroad boxcar and then eventually move into the home of their wealthy, long-lost grandfather.

My son and I, as well as my friend, her two sons and their friends, enjoyed the production. But of this crew, the ones who enjoyed it most were those who read the books—including me.

Field’s adaptation faithfully follows Warner’s book. Which means it deals with poverty, destitution and a child’s perspective on the death of two parents. But all is handled gently—in the manner that dark issues were once dealt with. So, the story manages to avoid the nightmares and instead feeds a kid’s daydream about surviving on his own without adults.

The talented cast did a wonderful job. I was particularly impressed with Dan Hale, who plays the youngest, Benny. OK, too often, men remind me of little boys but Hale, doing it intentionally, does a nice job without going over the top.

Still, the story is dated and needs set up for today’s audience. As I watched young Henry befriend and find a job with the local doctor after one brief exchange over the lawn mower, I thought of all the stranger danger lessons just flying out the window. Could you actually teach your child today to trust a young, unmarried doctor still living with his mother, who follows young boys into the woods?

Set in the Depression, this is also a history lesson. It’s a time when $5 could buy milk, bread, apples, cheese and you still had a lot left over. It works very well when the play is woven into a classroom curriculum as is often the case with Chicago Playworks’ productions. Indeed, the company has written a great companion package for teachers.

(This venerable company is celebrating 80 years. It is a real treasure as well as the city’s oldest children’s theater.)

While this show is recommended for ages 8 and up, if you have a Boxcar Children reader, you can go younger. Susy Schultz, mom of Zachary, 13, and Bryant, 16, Oak Park

“The Boxcar Children.” The Merle Ruskin Theatre. 10 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. 2 p.m. Saturday. Through March 11. No performances Feb. 4 or 28. $8. 60 E. Balbo Ave., Chicago. (312) 922-1999, http://theatreschool.depaul.edu/shows_chicago_playworks.html.


 Camp and Summer Adventure Fair "You want to go to camp? And you want to go to sleepover camp? Staying away from me longer than one night with someone else responsible for your health and well-being?” Those were the thoughts I tried to calm when my boys asked about summer camp. Because at the same time I was worried, I also knew that summer camp can be a wonderful experience for a child—an experience I wanted my boys to have.

But how do you find a camp? And how do you find a camp where you feel confident about the people who are responsible for your child’s health and well being? Enter the Camp and Summer Adventure Fair, a free event organized by the American Camp Association, Illinois and Chicago Parent magazine on Jan 21-22. Here you can meet directors from more than 80 adventure, day, specialty, academic and special needs camps from the Midwest and across the country. You and your child can ask them any question you might have—from camp philosophy to whether kids sleep in bunk beds or tents.

You may think there is a certain conflict of interest here. After all, I am the editor of Chicago Parent and I am endorsing an event that the magazine sponsors. But Chicago Parent is sponsoring the event because we believe in it. For two years, I have gone to the event and as a result, my boys have gone to wonderful camps that we might never have discovered if not for the fair. And my boys enjoyed wandering up and down the aisles, as well as playing the games Radio Disney sponsors. Susy Schultz, mom of Zachary, 13, and Bryant, 16, Oak Park

The Camp and Summer Adventure Fair. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Jan 21: Seven Bridges, 6440 Double Eagle Dr., Woodridge. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22: Marriott Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire. (312) 332-0833, www.campandadventurefair.com.

Kids Eat Chicago

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