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‘Wind in the Willows’ a refreshing breeze at IHC

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In a note to his publisher, author Kenneth Grahame once described his classic book “The Wind in the Willows” as “perhaps chiefly for youth and those who still keep the spirit of youth alive in them.”

At Immaculate Heart Central Schools, junior/senior high school speech and dramatic arts teacher Michele M. Davison will keep that spirit of youth alive for audiences when students stage “The Wind in the Willows” as a musical at 7 p.m. today and at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s been one of my favorites since a child,” Mrs. Davison said.

Once she got the idea to stage it, she looked for scripts. She found a licensing agency out of Britain that developed a musical out of “Wind in the Willows.” Its author, Mr. Grahame (1859-1952), was born in Scotland and lived in England.

Mrs. Davison later began corresponding with a member of the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club on the island of Baliwick of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, which had recently staged “The Wind in the Willows.”

The woman Mrs. Davison was corresponding with produced the show for the Jersey club. She was terminally ill.

“My last email from her was literally two days before she passed away,” Mrs. Davison said. “But she was so excited ‘our side of the pond’ was interested in the production. She wanted to offer encouragement.”

“The Wind in the Willows” tells of the escapades of Ratty, Mole, Badger and the infamous Mr. Toad around the English countryside. They all display human characteristics. But by the end, Toad has learned that home and friends are more valuable than cars and boats.

The script by Sue Langwade allows for the inclusion of many minor characters. Mrs. Davison has cast 26 high school students and about 25 elementary students.

“The little kids are so enthusiastic and have such a good time with it that I think they inspire the older students,” she said.

IHC senior Holly L. Sacco, who plays Badger, said last week before a rehearsal that she became a fan of “The Wind in the Willows” after she watched a movie version of it as a child.

“It was my favorite,” she said. “I was really excited when I found out we were doing it.”

Many students were not familiar with the story.

“But when I joined up, I really liked the story of the show,” said junior Sarah V. McIntosh, who plays Mole.

The musical is versatile in that it allows presenters the chance to select their own songs for certain scenes.

“We all brainstormed to select songs from various shows and even Disney movies,” said senior Michael A. Fontana, who plays Toad. “We incorporated them into our situations. There’s one where I get my own caravan — it’s one of my (character’s) weird passions. I tell Ratty I’m going to show her the world. The song ‘A Whole New World’ (from “Aladdin”) fits in there perfectly. But we switched some of the lyrics.”

Other songs include “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys when Toad cruises around in his car and the opening number “Good Day Sunshine” when many of the animals are introduced.

“My favorite has to be the ‘Les Miz’ (“Miserables”) song ‘Do You hear the People Sing?,’” said Holly. “It’s like our war chant when we go off to fight the weasels.”

Students are also discovering English dialect for food, such as toads in the hole, bloater paste and bubble and squeak. Respectively, those food items are sausages baked in a flour/egg batter, a form of fish paste and fried leftover vegetables.

Cast members are learning some dance skills with the show’s choreography, especially the younger “duckling” students, Mrs. Davison said.

“Their big thing is they have to flap, waddle and quack at the same time,” she said. “That is something you’d definitely want to see.”

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The cast of “The Wind in the Willows” at Immaculate Heart Central Schools: Gabby Rivera as Rabbit Rose and the human Monica; Aynsley Upton as Rabbit Roberta and the human Chelsey; Sarah McIntosh as Mole; Olivia Morris as Rat; Halloy Sacco as Badger; James Hough as Otter; Erin Fikes as Horse; Michael Fontana as Toad; Katie Beagle as washer woman; Kyra Philbrick as barge woman; Sarah Monnat as the gaoler’s (jailer’s) daughter; Jasmeet Aujla as the magistrate; Ranyu Bo as the clerk; Gwyneth Rowland as the chief weasel; Kevin Schaeffer as Weasel Norman; Kelsey Short as Ferret Fredericka; Graceanne Minnick as Ferret Geraldine; Xi Gong as stoat Cynthia; Mihaela Silverstein as the gypsy; Fred Barden as Fox Fred; and Garrison Cuzzocrea as weasel Wilfred and the human car salesman.

Parts played by IHC primary and intermediate students: Cady Roy as Tammy; Mariah Rickert as Bessie; Armeet Aujla as Portly; James Meko as Mouse Mark; Jacqueline Seymour as Mouse Maureen and Heather Haynes as the police officer.

Ducklings: Samantha Booth, Avah Burkinshaw, Natalie DiFanion, Eliana Dulmage, Emily Luke, Eric Manubay, Evelyn Meko, William Moots and Jenna O’Malley.

Bunnies and singing mice: Alicia bishop, Isabella Borreggine, Kayla Braley-Hickman, Sarah Johnson, Lily Kinne, Hannah Luke, Stella Manubay, Eliza Nicol and Deirdre Rivera.

The details
WHAT: Immaculate Heart Central Schools staging “The Wind in the Willows.” WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. today and 4 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at IHC, 1316 Ives St. COST: $7 for adults and $5 for students in grades 1-12. There’s a $20 maximum for same-household families.Tickets will be available at the door or can be reserved by calling IHC at 788-4670. OF NOTE: Members of IHC’s Faith Community Service Club, as part of its Respect Life Initiative for Lent, will be selling beverages and snacks in the cafeteria during intermission and following the musical. The profits benefit orphans in Africa, where IHC’s former spiritual director, the Rev. Mark Reilly, has been stationed for the last year.
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