‘Frog Prince’ Is Great Fun For Cast, Audiences Of All Ages (4 Stars)

Kerplop! The Tale of the Frog Prince – Written by Matthew Woods & The Ensemble; Directed & Conceived by Matthew Woods, Costume Design, Cotton Talbot-Minkin; Lighting Design, Christopher Bocchiaro; Set Design, Candido Soares & Matthew Woods; Sound Design, Deirdre Benson & Matthew Woods; Choreography by Cameron Cronin, Kiki Samko, Joey Pelletier & the Ensemble; Puppet Design & Construction by Elizabeth Pearson & Jill Rogati. Presented by imaginary beasts At the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts 539 Tremont Street, Boston MA through February 7th.

When I was a kid in the sixties, there was a very clever cartoon segment on the “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” called Fractured Fairy Tales, where each week the show’s brilliant writers would give their warped take on a children’s classic from Cinderella to Rapunzel to yup – the Frog Prince (which was spun off into its own cartoon called “Hoppity Hooper”). Most of the humor went way over kid’s heads, and I was pleasantly reminded of that experience when I took in the hilarious and imaginative re-telling of “Kerplop! The Tale of the Frog Prince” – the annual Winter Panto presented by the company Imaginary Beasts at the BCA.
For those of you unfamiliar with Panto (it’s short for Pantomime), it’s a not-so-traditional re-telling of a fairy tale, usually staged in winter months. But Pantos add songs, dances, slapstick, jokes and some awful (but funny) puns, over-the-top (and cross-dressing) characters and lots and lots of audience participation, almost like a kids show, except it’s not for kids (although it’s pretty kid safe). There’s also a lot of improvisation and fourth wall smashing, and this production has more onstage actor crack-ups than the old Carol Burnett show.

Writer Matthew Woods takes the tale of The Frog Prince and gives it an environmental spin, with Aquanetta, the Wicked Water Nixie (campily played by Woods in drag), out to destroy the Kingdom of Little Puddle’s eco-system, whether poisoning the well where a wise old bullfrog (Jeremiah) lives, or destroying the air quality by constantly spraying her Marge Simpson-style hairdo with an aerosol hairspray. She is also plotting to take over the kingdom by having her creepy and mentally deranged troll son Wart (a terrific William Schuller) marry the beautiful but allegedly wild Princess Aurelia (Erin Eva Butcher) to seize power, but first Aquanetta must derail the plans of Prince Friedrich (Elizabeth Pearson) who is on his way to the kingdom to ask for the Princess’ hand himself. Aquanetta turns Friedrich into what else – a frog – and only a kiss from Aurelia will turn him back – but she must do so before the moon turns blue and the kingdom vanishes into thin air.

The large cast (16 actors) has a ball with the material and the performances are a joy to watch. In addition to Woods’ cross-dressing Aquanetta, Joey Pelletier is an absolute scream as Her Majesty The Queen (pun intended), who enlists the help of a male audience member and flirts with him incessantly throughout the performance. Pelletier is a master at vamping and is the primary cause of his fellow cast members losing it, followed closely by Woods, who at one point in the show tells a character “I don’t remember writing this scene,” before exiting laughing.
This was my first Panto, and it was kind of like of a series of vaudeville acts rolled into the story. There are songs (“Blue Moon”, “Smile”, “Age of Aquarius” and a pair by Three Dog Night), dance routines (including a cute homage to the dancing mushrooms in Disney’s “Fantasia”), and lots of topical references, including the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision and a nod to the late great Factory Theater that will keep you on your toes. The costuming is wildly imaginative (especially the outfits worn by the Queen) and the set is  pretty impressive, especially for a smaller venue.

I’m not generally the most enthusiastic participant when asked to play along with shows that call for audience contributions, but I found myself jumping in with abandon because of the pure fun factor. When the villains appeared, I was joining in with the rest of the audience with a chorus of “Boo – Hiss – Boo”.  If you’re looking for a way to break out of the post-holiday winter blahs, this is a great way to do it. For more info, go to: http://www.imaginarybeasts.org/imaginary_beasts/Now_Playing.html