‘Freddie the Frog’ leaps onto Niles West stage
Niles West High School junior Surdeep Chauhan starts off the opening act for "The Musical Adventures of Freddie the Frog" during rehearsal at the school's Black Box Theatre Nov. 29. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
What: “The Musical Adventures of Freddie the Frog”
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton St., Skokie
For ticket information visit www.nileswesttheatre.com/ticket-information.html or call (847) 626-2633
Updated: February 4, 2013 1:16AM
SKOKIE — Young children wrapped up in the musical adventures of a frog and his over-sized elephant friend may not realize by listening they’re actually building life skills.
For the first time the music-loving creatures are jumping from book to stage in the Niles West High School Theatre Department’s adaptation of the widely-acclaimed children’s book series “Freddie the Frog.”
“The Musical Adventures of Freddie the Frog” will be performed Dec. 6-8 at the Skokie high school. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students, seniors, and children.
Sharon Burch, a music teacher in Iowa, developed the five-book CD set to make music learning more accessible for children and their parents.
Set on the fictional Treble Clef Island, the stories and songs teach children about aspects of music such as notes, rhythm and tempo.
“They enter into Freddie’s musical world and once they fall in love with him, they fall in love with music,” said Burch, who this week visited local elementary schools to introduce kids to the play’s characters.
Former Niles West director of fine arts Mary Jo Papich is serving as the musical director of the musical.
Papich, who was Burch’s childhood music teacher, introduced her to Niles West High School Theatre Director Andy Sinclair. Beginning in May, they began working on a script to weave together the books’ plots. A narrating group of “red brass army ants” became the central characters charged with interacting with the audience.
Taking a cue from the Broadway musical “The Lion King,” the Niles West production features both puppets and actors in full costume, Sinclair said.
“This is free theater that is well-designed,” he said. “It is a fully realized production.”
The “Freddie the Frog” interactive musical is made possible by a nine-member pit orchestra, 23 crew members, and a cast of 24 actors who play 40 animal characters.
Students from Niles West feeder schools, as well as children of schools in Chicago and Evanston, are attending the high school’s annual kid-friendly production.
Sinclair said younger audiences are often the most energetic, albeit honest, viewers. He encourages his actors to make what is often the children’s first experience with theater fun in a non-patronizing manner.
“We are exposing them to a world that is what a visit to Laramie, Wyo. would be for us,” he said, alluding to the theater troupe’s kickoff production for the season, “The Laramie Project.”
“This just happens to be on a tropical island,” Sinclair added.
To prepare for Burch’s visit and a trip to Niles West for the musical, Kelli Murphy’s third- grade class at Park View School in Morton Grove began reading about Freddie the Frog.
The students are also currently playing the recorder at their twice-weekly, 30-minute music sessions. Some have shown progress in other areas of learning because of the class.
“A lot of our students that may not be great readers tend to read music more easily,” Murphy observed.
Burch believes music’s beauty lies in its ability to trigger happiness while simultaneously activating all parts of the brain.
“Once those connections are built in your brain, they don’t disappear,” she said. “It spills over into other areas of your life.”
The largest byproduct of music class isn’t necessary talented artists, she said, but rather brighter, more creative thinkers.
Burch said the skills gained through reading, practicing and playing music are useful in all aspects of life: discipline, logic, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.
That’s why she would like to see science, technology, engineering and math programs incorporate a connecting component: art.
“If we want innovative leaders of the future we better be developing those skills for our kids,” Burch said. “We are responsible for the leaders we create of our next generation.”
Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton Street in Skokie, invites local elementary students to a free show on Thursday, Dec. 6 and Friday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. Public performances are Friday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10; students, seniors and children are $7. For ticket information, go to www.nileswesttheatre.com/ticket-information.html or call (847) 626-2633.
Sharon Burch will be available for book signings at the premiere.