Like most Americans, I had no idea that somebody had made a Broadway musical out of "The Wind in the Willows," but Rhonda and I received visual and aural proof last weekend, when we saw it at a local high school.
Now I've been a huge fan of the book since 1982 when my aunt gave me a copy (Thanks again, Lisa!) and I've tried to enjoy media interpretations of it. The animated Disney version ("The Adventures of Mr. Toad," 1949) mainly sought to turn a contemplative, pastoral story into a cartoon version of The Love Bug. The 1996 live action version (known as "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" here in the US) - while notable for reuniting just about the entire Monty Python cast - takes an overblown turn towards the end, and the purposeful non-animalness of the actors is very distracting.
Those are both okaaaaaay, but... Undoubtably the finest adapatation is the Cosgrove-Hall BBC television series, using stop-motion animation that perfectly captured the slow, thoughtful nature of the book. And in addition to the original story, they did 65 other episodes... that didn't suck, unlike most made-for-tv continuances. (Although the general basis for the "further adventures" is that Toad's passion for fads is incurable.)
But what was interesting about the musical was how Toad was presented as a prancing dandy (I'm assuming this is part of the show and not some interpretation by the high school; Nathan Lane was the Broadway Toad, but please forgive my stereotyping.) Throughout, Toad is skipping and caterwauling, acting very much the gay archetype. He even cross dresses. So it got me thinking to re-read the book with the idea that the River Bankers are in actuality trying to curb Toad's obvious homosexuality without ever discussing it... forget the obsessions of horse carts and motorcars. I can already imagine his friends trying to dismiss it as another one of his phases. Consider this quote of Badger's:
"You've disregarded all the warnings we've given you, you're getting us animals a bad name in the district... But we never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that limit you've reached."
And then Mole and Rat lock him up in his bedroom, but he eventually goes to jail and poses as a woman for the last half of the story.
Now I'm not stupid (or arrogant) enough to suggest that this meaning may actually be part of the 1908 work. That's like trying to turn the pipeweed references of "The Lord of the Rings" into a sub-theme of legalizing pot. It's just a silly interpretation, amusing to an adult, modern-day reader. But of no real legitimacy.
By the way, Disney is going to try it again; they recently bought a new treatment based on the book. This, of course, comes merely years after they tore down the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction at Walt Disney World.