Footlights: Illuminating the Richmond Theater Scene

This Week: The Rise of “Croaker”

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As someone who regularly annoys friends and colleagues in other cities by touting the quality of the work being produced in Richmond, I’m happy that New York finally is taking notice.

More specifically, New York’s Three Act Theatre is including the locally written and produced “Croaker: the Frog Prince Musical” in its Emerging Writers Cabaret. On March 20, highlights of three new musicals will be performed at the cabaret with one script chosen as the basis for a workshop production by the company.

Composer Jason Marks created “Croaker” with lyricist Debra Clinton in 2012 as a vehicle for the School for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, or SPARC. Though it was originally developed for a big cast of child performers, the creators quickly saw potential for it to be produced professionally.

“The show was a big hit for SPARC so we did a concert version to raise money to produce a demo recording of the show,” Marks recalls. “Hearing adults sing the songs, it was clear the show could work as a full production.”

Virginia Repertory Theatre opened “Croaker” this weekend as part of its children’s season.

For this latest production, Marks and Clinton augmented the script, rearranged scenes and added two new songs. “Revisiting ‘Croaker’ with Deb has been very rewarding,” Marks says. “The show reads better than it did and now we have a really talented cast involved that keeps pushing us to make it even better.”

Marks has had his share of big-city success as a performer: In 2010, the Richmond native won a nationwide Big Broadway Break contest offered by Staybridge Suites and spent six months rent-free in New York auditioning, performing and taking classes. While he’s starred in several regional productions, he’s been a mainstay locally, most recently as the title character in “Shrek: the Musical” at Virginia Rep.

Marks says that now being recognized as an emerging composer in New York is exciting but he’s a little too preoccupied to think too much about it.

“I’ve been writing all of the orchestral tracks for ‘Croaker,’ which is very painstaking work,” he says. “I would absolutely love to write more new material but right now my focus is on making the current production as good as it can possibly be.”

By the way: The same night “Croaker” debuted at Virginia Rep, a production opened at Parker Middle School in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, with a cast of a couple dozen teenage performers.

Running: The Acts of Faith festival that dominates local stages this time of year has started to peter out. The last nonprofessional show on the slate, Stable Theatre’s “Catacombs,” closes next weekend. Pro shows still running are the Richmond triangle Theatre’s “Lazarus Syndrome” and Virginia Rep’s “I Do! I Do!”

On deck: “Moon Over Buffalo” rises at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre starting March 18.

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