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UP THE RIVER, written by Kathryn MacKay, John Corrigan and David Archibald with original music and lyrics by Mr. Archibald, is an entertaining up-date of the classic “Wind in the Willows.” Set on the St. Lawrence River, the initial familiar scene of Mole and Ratty, (who insists he’s a beaver), is actually played on the river, with the audience on the docks of the theatre. Composer Archibald entertains prior to the show.
The river set includes Mole’s house, the docks, a rowboat and a small island, complete with grass, a tree and clumps of cattails. Indoors Robin Fisher has designed a two-story Toad Hall that opens up for the weasel party, a train that morphs into a boat and a terrific car for toad. Her costumes are excellent and fun, especially all the spats, Florence’s boa, and Toad’s green outfit including his wallet.
Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is good, especially outdoors, and the clever indoor film sequence works very well. Simon Fon has done a nice job with the fights and flying, and you’d never know top-notch Stage Manager Jane Vanstone Osborn was a late addition to the production.
Four young actors have fun with multiple roles. Ashley Armstrong is a strong dancer and an excellent weasel, while Matthew Stewart does well not only as a weasel, but also a rabbit. As Otter, Scott Murray does well and makes a unique entrance and exit. Meredith Busteed has done a nice job with the weasel choreography and also makes a nifty rabbit.
Matthew John Lundvall is fine in a number of roles, especially as Badger and an indignant washerwoman. Sean C. Robertson makes a heroic Ratty, ready to attack with his hockey stick. He’s also good as Pirate Billy. Marcia Tratt is an absolute hoot as Florence. Her contest song with Toad is great fun and “Die Krote,” sung in “Gerbil” and translated by Badger, hilarious.
Timm Hughes is well cast as the egotistical Toad. His antic physical style fits the character perfectly and he’s especially funny on the train and boat. As Mole, Ramona Gilmour-Darling captures the wide-eyed naiveté of the character. She does a beautiful job on what I consider the best song in the show, “I Call It Home.” Joined by Ratty in a duet, I wish it had gone on longer, as it’s lovely and conveys one of the core messages of the story.
Speaking of songs, David Archibald has done a terrific job with the music both as composer and musical director, although some of the weasels’ rap is hard to understand. He plays various guitars, piano, a uke and even a couple of onstage characters. Choreographer Dana Tekatch has created lively choreography for the opening number and title song.
Director Kathryn MacKay has come up with inventive staging. I loved the hopping rabbit chorus, the weasels on the ropes, the washerwoman’s exit and much more. She’s mined the script for all the nuggets of humor, including some good groaner puns.
This is a lively, funny and fairly faithful re-telling of a beloved classic. There’s plenty there for adults, and kids will love it.
On a scale of one to five, both the material and the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of UP THE RIVER get four and one-third fish. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.