It’s not quite accurate to call “The Frog Bride” a one-man show. Sure, veteran storyteller David Gonzalez adapted and stars in this contemporary retelling of the ancient Eastern European folk tale, which opened Friday at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis.
Gonzalez plays all the parts in the show, using his variable voice, animated gestures and other theatrical skills to give us a fairy-tale gallery that includes a king, three princes and frightful Baba Yaga, the Slavic witch.
But the colorful Gonzalez is aided onstage by sterling pianist Gregory Theisen and soulful violinist Elise Parker. The musicians’ spirited playing of compositions by Sergei Prokofiev and Daniel Kelly adds dimension and emotional immediacy to the storytelling. Their excellent musicianship, which is used to expand feelings and themes, also helps “Frog Bride” to breathe and to lift this Lenard Petit-directed production beyond the street-wise New York cartoon elements that Gonzalez brings to it.
“Frog Bride” involves a king looking to demit his office and the three sons who are candidates to succeed him. Before he passes on his crown, the king designs a series of tests for the young men. Each prince has to fashion a bow and an arrow, then shoot it. The bride is to be found wherever the arrow lands.
While his two older brothers land respectable human brides, Yvon, the youngest son, does a poor job making his bow and arrow. His Cupid’s arrow lands in a swamp. He brings back a frog. But the amphibian bride has some tricks up her sleeve, even as the story takes some dark turns.
The theater recommends “Frog Bride” for youngsters in grades 3 and up. The production includes serious themes such as a suicide attempt that is depicted in a cartoon illustration and description of the witches’ realm, which is guarded by heads on spikes. Bullying also shows up in the show, which is presented with a jumble of styles. The production also uses video design by Matyas Keleman, who draws on the abstract paintings of Kandinsky.
As the face of the show, Gonzalez sells it all well, even as he makes some unusual theatrical choices. For example, in playing the members of the royal household, he eschews the arch bearing that many of us imagine when we think of princes. In language and tone, his princes could’ve been plucked from the New York subway.
But he engages the audience — adults and children alike. Noted raconteur Kevin Kling, who attended the opening performance, complimented his skill at making such a story so lively. Youngsters also were taken with the show, which is what it’s all about. In his dramatic pauses, in his entrances and exits, Gonzalez makes “The Frog Bride” something that is both engaging and unexpected.
There are a lot of stories about beautiful creatures trapped in the bodies of toads. This “Frog Bride” is a thing of splotchy beauty.