You can’t escape the wildly popular Christmas song when you enter stores during the holiday season.
“Frosty the Snow Man,” written by Steve "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson, and first recorded by Gene Autry, has taken on a life of its own. The story of the magical snowman has been sung by various artists since its inception, including Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante, and been adapted in other mediums, including animated television specials and children’s books.
Now “Frosty the Snow Man” is commanding the stage at Adventure Theatre. Dallas Tolentino plays Frosty in a white suit and vest, with LED lights.
In all the permutations, the basic story is the same: a group of children build a snowman that comes to life because of a magic hat and wreaks havoc.
The show’s director Jason Schlafstein, who calls the production a play with music rather than a musical, says that at the same time, Frosty shows the children how to make the most of an unexpected snow day – or any day.
“He melts at the end of the day,” Schlafstein said.
When the director approached Tolentino about considering the title role, the actor was happy to accept.
“I know his style from Flying V, the theater Jason runs,” Tolentino said. “He has an innovative and creative take on things, so I knew ‘Frosty’ would be a reinvention.”
He also figured it would be a challenge.
“I knew there’d be a lot of movement,” he said. “There’d be singing and dancing and physicality. It would definitely be a workout.”
One thing Frosty doesn’t do is speak. “He makes some sounds, but basically, the challenge is to communicate with just the body,” Tolentino added.
As inspiration, Tolentino drew from sources like silent film star Buster Keaton, the mischievous character of Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Bill Watterson’s comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.”
Schlafstein agrees that the part of Frosty, at least in the Adventure Theatre version, requires “incredible skills,” including roller blading, step-dancing, and gymnastics.
“What other play would ask you to do all that?” he asked.
In spite of the zaniness, “Frosty the Snow Man,” like any other play for children, has to be “honest, not pandering,” Schlafstein said.
The director is grateful for the opportunities Adventure Theatre have given him – which have included lighting, carpentry, assistant-directing, and directing.
“Michael Bobbitt, Adventure Theatre’s artistic director, took me under his wing,” Schlafstein said. “I also learned from him that with kids, something has to happen every five pages of a script. That’s not only because children have a shorter attention span than adults, but also because they don’t have a sense of social obligation; they’ll let you know what’s not working for them. We have to earn their attention.”
A professional theater, Adventure Theatre opened in 1951, making it the longest-running children’s theater in Montgomery County. It encompasses productions for children and those by children, summer camps, educational programs for schools, and a theater academy – from young children through pre-professional students, up to pre-professionals, who are “unashamedly on the way to be Broadway stars,” said Bobbitt.
Adventure Theatre also encourages new works – it has produced 40 new plays. Some of them achieved publication later, and others have gone on to extended runs or national tours.
“Children deserve to see great theater from an early age,” said Bobbitt. “If we can get them into the building and get them to love a memorable production or artists, it makes a visceral impression. At the very least they’ll become audience members, if not performers.”
When it came time to hold auditions, Schlafstein didn’t hold “traditional’ ones. He asked the actors to sing a song or tell a story about their favorite winter moments – for the coolest, sweetest associations they had with snow days.
The auditions fit the show, said Tolentino. “‛Frosty the Snow Man’ captures the winter spirit, regardless of age and time.”
“Frosty, the Snow Man” runs through Dec. 31 at Adventure Theatre MTC on 7300 MacArthur Boulevard in Glen Echo. For information, visit: www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org.
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