Review: The Frog Prince, musical by Scottish Rite Theater
by Michael Meigs

Concerning children's theatre, let me come clean in the first paragraph. By the time I was 18 I had performed as a pasha, a pirate and a king for a children's theatre in north Alabama. I was stage-struck for life. That particular community children's theatre is entering its 49th season.

The Scottish Rite Children's Theatre (SRCT) is much younger than that but it is much more richly endowed. Established in 2004 through the efforts of the Kelso family, this non-profit institution received from Texas Masons the deed to the historic Turnhalle at 18th and Lavaca. The building was constructed in 1869 for use as a German community center and gymnasium. It served as the site for music events, theatre and opera. The gorgeous scenic backdrops regularly used in today's productions were painted in 1882.  An article in the spring, 2007 issue of the magazine of the League of Historic Theatres profiled the SRCT, the history of the Turnhalle, and the Kelsos' approach to children's theatre.

Andreá Smith (ALT photo)

The Frog Prince as adapted by the SRCT follows the Kelsos' guidelines. Excited children gather in the wide carpeted space just before the low stage. Andrea Smith as the exuberant Penelope the Party Pooper (a stock character for the SRCT) and 

Jose Villareal (ALT photo)

Jose Villareal as the King exuberantly greet the audience and tell them what to expect.



"Get up! Get up! Now wave your hands behind you! They're covered with 'bottom glue.'  Pat your bottom! Now when you sit down again, you are going to be glued to the floor and you won't move!"

Penelope then instructs parents and other adults to stand, put one hand on the head and the other on the tummy and repeat a pledge. Among other things, we promised to turn off cell phones and not to use flash photography.


There are only four actors, some of whom play more than one part, and there is no fourth wall. Actors are close to the audience throughout. While creating the play on stage they often address the boys and girls, either directly or in asides.

Andreá Smith (ALT photo)


When the curtains opened to reveal those amazing backdrops, we were really transported to a make believe world.

The action, music, song and joking reeled off quicker than a Merry Melodies cartoon. At the opening performance the kids were agog and the parents were enchanted.

For example, how often are you going to get to see a grown-up frog do a rap lesson foretelling the plot? He can't reveal to anyone his real princely identity, and (1) he has to live in the palace, (2) the princess has to tell him a secret, and (3) she has to fall in love with him. We hear the song and Michael McKelvey's hopping melody enough times for even the three-year-olds to be able to count (1 -2 -3) what's coming.

Playwright and stage manager D. Heath Thompson recrafts the familiar story of the petulant princess who loses her golden ball down the well. Princess Abigail is really quite naughty at the start. For example, she tells a lie that causes the King to fire his cook. One reason she's so crabby is the fact that she's stuck with the prospect of marrying the only prince in sight, Prince Francis ("Franny!"),  a big silly who never learned to blow his nose properly. Penelope the Party-Pooper was the mischievous witch who put the frog down the well in the first place.

The text, the gags and the direction amuse the grown-ups as much as the kids. For example, I particularly relished the lightning moment when Jose Villareal as the King did a bit of Michael Jackson moon walking.


Jennymarie Jemison as Princess Abigail and Sean Martin as the Frog Prince make a handsome pair, even when he's still in his frog getup. In the course of the story Princess Abigail learns some humility and good manners. She even avows her previous misdeeds, so the King can bring back his cook. And when she gives her froggy friend a gentle kiss of friendship, he disappears back down the well, only to emerge as -- well, you know how it all turns out.

Sean Martin and friend (ALT photo)After the show the actors mingle with their very impressed audience, chatting with them and autographing the broadsheet programs, which carry on one side a coloring-book version of the poster. 


Andreá Smith (ALT photo)The SRCT is providing a memorable magic hour for these kids at scarcely more than the cost of a movie ticket. They aim to reach children from 4 to 10, the ages of wonder and engagement. 

The stories are familiar to us and will be familiar to them as they grow up. The lessons are clear and gentle. The actors sparkle. And the SRCT has the certain prospect of generations more of young persons to enchant.

That's the advised opinion of the former pasha, pirate, and king!



Click for program broadsheet for The Frog Prince


Hits as of 2015 03 01: 2229

The Frog Prince, musical
by D. Heath Thompson
Scottish Rite Theater

June 27 - August 02, 2009
Scottish Rite Theater
207 West 18th Street
Austin, TX, 78701