Mr. Toad has a big need for speed, especially with newfangled motorcars, in the children's classic "The Wind in the Willows." Akron audiences will get to see Mr. Toad, his friends and his enemies come to life in the pop rock musical version of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 tale this weekend at Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

The school is presenting the Ohio premiere of the U.K. musical, which toured England in 2016 and played on the West End in 2017. It features music and lyrics by Oliver Award winner George Stiles and Anthony Drew, and a book by Julian Fellowes, an Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of "Downton Abbey." (The three first collaborated on the "Mary Poppins" musical that opened on the West End in 2004.)

"The Wind in the Willows" will feature a 68-member ensemble at Miller South, directed by Alex Funk. He discovered the British musical in late 2017, before the school became one of the first theaters in the United States to gain the amateur rights to the show, which he secured in January 2018.

"I listened to some of the music and just like immediately fell in love with it. It was very catchy,'' Funk said Monday. "It's got that childlike quality to it but it's not like you're listening to a children's song."

Vocal instructor Paul Stewart came on board, recognizing that the show, which doesn't have a youth version yet, would be a welcome challenge for the Miller students. Dance instructor Ashley Watts is choreographer.

The show is described as a riotous comedy that follows a series of misadventures by Mr. Toad. The cast is led by eighth-grader Patrick Wagner as Mr. Toad, eighth-grader Donovan Shaeffer as Rat and seventh-grader Stanley Niekamp as Mole, the protagonists. The antagonists, who take over the rich Mr. Toad's Toad Hall and try to eat the young mole Portia (Fiona Coughlin), are the Wild Wooders — carnivores who include nasty weasels and stoats.

Funk said the cast has handled the maturity of the material and the pop-rock vocals very well.

"They've been working since December on the script and learning the lyrics listening to the soundtrack over [Christmas] break''  before rehearsals started in January, he said.

It's a unique opportunity for the students to work on fairly new material, Funk said: "You have the liberty and freedom to sort of own things and not have to repeat what somebody else has done."

Performances will be 12:45 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the school, 1055 East Ave., Akron. Cost is $10-$15 or $5 for students and senior citizens. See https://willows.bpt.me or call 330-822-3762.

 

Exploring space

The Akron Symphony Orchestra will explore the boundaries of space with "Also sprach Zarathustra," the iconic music by Richard Strauss that's in the opening sequence of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey," Saturday at the University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall.

The concert, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of NASA and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, will start at 8 p.m. at 198 Hill St. The program will open with John Adams’ orchestral ball-of-fire, "A Short Ride in a Fast Machine," followed by excerpts from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by famed film composer John Williams.

Guest violinist Jinjoo Cho will be featured in Korngold’s Violin Concerto, considered a masterpiece in musical literature. Jinjoo established herself as one of the most charismatic violinists of her generation after winning a gold medal at the prestigious International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2014.

The concert will close with Strauss’ tone poem about the human condition, "Also sprach Zarathustra," which is filled with dazzling orchestral effects. Maestro Christopher Wilkins will discuss the evening’s program in "A Preview from the Podium" at 7 p.m.

Tickets start at $25. Call 330-535-8131 or see www.akronsymphony.org.

 

Cleveland Havana Ballet Project

Verb Ballets will present a performance of the Cleveland Havana Ballet Project at 2 p.m. Sunday at Akron-Summit County Public Library Auditorium, 60 S. High St. The performance will feature works from Cuban ballet legend Laura Alonso's ProDanza's repertory. Alonso is collaborating with Verb Ballets for a month long cultural exchange, setting Cuban ballets on the Cleveland-area company.

Sunday's Akron performance follows a sold-out presentation of the new Cuban ballets and reception with Laura Alonso in the Verb studio in Shaker Heights on Friday. Cost for the Akron show is $10. See https://verbballets.org/cleveland-havana-ballet-project-akron for reservations.

The three-year Cleveland Havana Ballet Project began in 2016 and included a tour in Cuba last season. Alonso, the daughter of world-famous ballerina Alicia Alonso, performed for 25 years with Ballet Nacional de Cuba.

 

Cleveland Orchestra season

The Cleveland Orchestra announced its 2019-20 season Sunday, which will include 76 concerts over 26 weeks. A highlight of the season will be a festival designed to explore music and art that was banned, marginalized and destroyed during the Nazis' "Degenerate Art" movement in the 1920s and '30s.

The festival will center on Alban Berg's groundbreaking 1937 opera "Lulu" on May 16, 19 and 22, 2020, at Severance Hall.

Next season will open with Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Sept. 19 and 20 and end with Mussorgky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," arranged for orchestra by Ravel, May 28 through 31, 2020.

Music Director Franz Welser-Most also will feature rarely performed symphonies by Schubert and Prokofiev. Schubert's Third and Fourth Symphonies and Prokofiev's Third and Sixth Symphonies will be featured across several performances, including a full Schubert and Prokofiev program March 13, 2020.

Other highlights will include pianist Mitsuko Uchida in solo recital with three Schubert piano sonatas Nov. 3, and pianist Yuja Wang playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concert No. 4 Nov. 29-Dec. 1. For the full season schedule, see www.clevelandorchestra.com.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.