Co-creators Jason Marks and Debra Clinton are expanding their vision for “Croaker, The Frog Prince Musical,” a show originally cast with and created for young people.
Their play, a new take on the classic tale of “The Frog Prince,” was a hit when it was initially produced at the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) in 2012 with a cast of more than 30 middle school students.
“It was such a success that we wanted to see if it had any merit for adult actors,” Marks said. “We feel that the show is enjoyable for all ages.”
The reinvented musical will still play to young audiences but it also will contain enough tongue-in-cheek humor to appeal to adults. It will have its professional premiere at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn on Friday, March 11.
Marks, who created the score, and Clinton, who wrote the book and lyrics, took “liberties” with the classic fairy tale when they created their initial version of “Croaker” that was commissioned by SPARC.
“ ‘The Frog Prince’ by the Brothers Grimm is very loose in its plot. There wasn’t a lot of story to it,” Marks said. “We wanted to work on the characters and make it our own.”
The new “Croaker” is approximately 30 minutes longer than its predecessor.
“We were very happy with the original form of the show, but we had written it to fit a certain model,” Marks said. “We had to move through plot points very quickly in the original production. We went back and added new script material and two new songs in the hope that the Virginia Rep production will be the final take on the show.”
The play tells the story of spoiled Princess Acrimonia, who on her birthday takes the golden ball given to her by her father and tosses it down a well. The ball ultimately lands on the head of the frog Croaker, who has been living in the well.
“He becomes an unlikely friend of the princess and teaches her lessons of compassion and kindness,” Marks said. “He ultimately helps her discover who she is inside.”
Because this is a new production, costume designer Jeanne Nugent was given carte blanche to create the characters’ fairy-tale costumes.
“The process has been open-ended for me,” she said. “We decided to make the costumes bright and colorful. We are pulling a little 1970s fashion into traditional Renaissance styles.”
Nugent, who traveled to New York City’s garment district to buy fabrics for the show, had a clear vision of the dress she wanted to design for the princess as soon as she read the script.
The royal dress is a modern take on the traditional princess gown. The cotton-candy-colored light-blue background is swirled with pink and features lace ruffles and a multilayered skirt with fluffy tulle underneath.
“I tried to update her a bit with high boots and ruffled knickers that are exposed,” Nugent said of the princess. “Little girls will love her costume.”
Creating the costumes for Croaker and his three-frog posse was more of a challenge.
“We wanted the characters to be people but with frog characteristics so we added frog touches to the costumes,” she said.
“Croaker” isn’t the first collaboration between Marks and Clinton. They have been partnering on various projects since they met in 2004. Both actors-writers live in Richmond and work in the local theater community. Clinton also currently serves as artistic director of the Jewish Family Theatre at Weinstein JCC.
The two work well as a team.
“It’s a complicated process when you are writing a musical, but working with her is incredibly fun and rewarding,” Marks said of Clinton. “It makes the work less difficult. There is always a lot of laughter.”
“Jason and I write what we think is funny and entertaining,” she said. “We come to consensus and agreement with everything we put on the page.”
“Croaker” is already generating buzz within New York City’s theater community. The show was recently selected as one of three new musicals to be showcased on March 20 during the Three Act Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Cabaret in New York.
“We will be performing highlights from ‘Croaker,’” Marks said. “We are very honored and humbled by that.”