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University of Central Oklahoma dives into child programming

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Based on Kenneth Grahame's 1908 classic children's book, "The Wind in the Willows," "The Mad Adventures of Mr. Toad" focuses on the titular character and his frequent mishaps brought about by his poor driving and arrogant attitude.

The musical also shows how Toad's friends "? Ratty, Badger and Mole "? attempt to keep him out of trouble, in spite of his poor attitude.

"Mr. Toad" marks the first time in recent years that the University of Central Oklahoma Theatre has presented a full-scale production aimed at a young audience.

"We wanted to do a children's musical, because we are interested in providing entertainment for the children in our community," said director Daisy Nystul, chair-elect of UCO's Department of Theatre, Dance and Media Arts. "We hope this experience will not only be entertaining, but educational. Since the play was about animals, I had the idea of partnering with the OKC Zoo."

PARTNERSHIP
As part of that partnership, the Oklahoma City Zoo will bring live animals to the performances and give brief lectures about each of them. In return, actors from the production will perform selected scenes from "Mr. Toad" at the zoo on April 25 and 26.

In addition to the zoo activities, the Oklahoma Center for Arts Education is providing arts and crafts opportunities for children to play musical instruments, dance and make terra cotta "toad abodes" that can be used to attract toads to yards. All the arts activities will be overseen by UCO faculty members. A 12:30 p.m. program is slated prior to the 2 p.m. Saturday show.

"Mr. Toad" will be presented in a theater-in-the-round setting with minimal sets, offset by colorful costumes.

"We are trying to make it as interactive as possible," Nystul said. "The actors will be right there, moving in and out of the aisles. The audience will be surrounded and engaged with them."

She said some challenges exist in producing a musical with non-human characters.

"Not many of our students have had a lot of singing or dancing experience, and it is rare that the characters in a play are animals," Nystul said, adding that "Toad" actors rose to the challenge, matching their physicality and vocal work to the animals they are portraying.

She said that she has enjoyed the experience of staging "The Mad Adventures of Mr. Toad" and hopes the university will stage future children's musicals.

"?Eric Webb

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