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Children's Theatre Company basks in Tony recognition
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A tentative Toad (Mark Linn-Baker) is ready to plant his first garden with a little help from his faithful friend Frog (Jay Goede) in A Year with Frog and Toad. (Photo by Rob Levine, courtesy of Children's Theatre Company)

Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) - The Children's Theatre Company is enjoying a storybook season.

Coming off the biggest year in its 38-year history, the CTC will receive the 2003 Tony Award for excellence in regional theater. And a musical first produced at CTC, A Year With Frog and Toad, was nominated Wednesday for Best Musical.

"We are simply ecstatic to win the regional Tony Award," artistic director Peter Brosius said hours after the award was announced.

He called it "such a celebration of the decades of work of this theater and its incredible staff, who are just so committed to quality and creating extraordinary work."

Previous regional Tony winners include Chicago's Goodman Theatre, New Haven's Yale Repertory Theater and Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater, which won in 1982.

(The Tony Award is) a celebration of this state, which has committed so much to the arts and education. It's a celebration of all the artists who have worked here ... and it's a celebration of young people. It tells us how important they are.
- Peter Brosius, CTC artistic director

Each year, one theater company outside of New York is given a Tony to honor its overall body of exceptional work. St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola says the CTC is the first children's theater to ever win the award.

The CTC, based in south Minneapolis, began in 1965 as The Moppet Players, a small company that produced dramatics, dance and theater for children. The troupe moved into the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that year and was incorporated as The Children's Theatre Company in 1975.

The theater built its reputation on adapting classic children's literature (Little Women, The Wind in the Willows) and storybooks (Madeline's Rescue, Dr. Seuss' The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins). Since Brosius became artistic director in 1997, he's broadened the theater's artistic mission by adding internationally recognized plays as well as newly commissioned scripts.

Brosius said the CTC's Tony Award is "a celebration of this state, which has committed so much to the arts and education. It's a celebration of all the artists who have worked here ... and it's a celebration of young people. It tells us how important they are."

The CTC was nominated for the award last year, but Brosius said it was a wonderful surprise to learn Monday that they won.

"I think it sends a big message nationally how important young people are, how important this field is, and is absolutely thrilling to me nationally that every community deserves a theatre like this - all the young people deserve a theatre like this - and the artists deserve a place to work that honors them on a daily basis and allows them to do what I hope is their best and greatest work," Brosius said.

The CTC's public and school matinee mainstage productions, education classes and tour shows are attended by 350,000 people annually. The theater's full-time staff includes a resident acting company, performing apprentices and 90 professionals who work with more than 300 technicians and adult and student actors each year.

A Year With Frog and Toad, based on the children's books by Arnold Lobel, had a successful 10-week run at the Children's Theatre last year before making the leap to Broadway's Cort Theatre in April. The cast includes Mark Linn-Baker as Toad and Jay Goede as Frog, plus Frank Vlastnik as the scene-stealing Snail with the Mail.

In addition to Best Musical, A Year With Frog and Toad also received Tony nominations for Original Score (Robert Reale, music; Willie Reale, lyrics) and for Best Book of a Musical (Willie Reale).

"It's so thrilling that it started here and our audience heard it first," Brosius said. He said A Year With Frog and Toad is "not about spectacle, not about flash. It's about the heart."

A Year With Frog and Toad will compete for Best Musical with Hairspray, the musical version of the John Waters film; Movin' Out, Twyla Tharp's all-dance tribute to Billy Joel; and Amour, a fantasy about a man who could walk through walls.

"It is some tough competition. It's a great party to be part of," Brosius said.

The Tony Awards will be presented on June 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Children's Theatre survived a scandal. In April 1984, former artistic director John Clark Donahue was arrested and charged with six felony counts of sexually abusing three boys at the Children's Theatre school. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges and served 10 months of a one-year jail term.

Brosius credits support from the community, as well as the leadership of Jon Cranney, who took over as CTC artistic director after Donahue left, for helping Children's Theatre survive and thrive.

Last month, the Cargill Foundation announced the Children's Theatre will receive a $2.5 million grant as part of $6.6 million in grants to seven Twin Cities arts and culture groups. The CTC grant will go a 288-seat teen theater, part of an overall $24 million Michael Graves-designed expansion.

Brosius said the theater is ready to start construction of the expansion this summer, if the Legislature restores $5 million in bonds vetoed last year by former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

"We are good to go," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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