BWW Review: ZACH Offers Sweet Family Fun with A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD
Children's theater is a tricky business. Kids like silly, fun-filled shows, but shows also have to appeal to the adults accompanying those children. Go too silly, and the adults are disappointed. Go too serious, and the kids are bored. It's a rare show like A Year With Frog and Toad that makes everyone happy, and Zach Theatre's spot on production of it thoroughly entertains all audiences.
The Tony-nominated musical, based on the short stories by Arnold Lobel, is incredibly easy to comprehend. The show follows, as you would assume, one year in the life of best buddies Frog and Toad. Rather than a full story or plot, we're given vignettes and scenes of their adventures and misadventures over the course of the year. Some of the best moments involve Frog and Toad's favorite pastimes, including swimming during the summer, sledding during the winter, and baking cookies whenever the mood strikes. In the process, the kiddies in the audience are taught valuable lessons about friendship and community.
The book and score, by Robert and Willie Reale, is akin to the book and score on another family classic, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The bouncing, jaunty musical numbers are infectious and downright adorable, and the short episodes keep the young audience members engaged.
Director Nat Miller does an exceptional job at keeping a brisk pace throughout the evening and establishes zany, heightened characters without overdoing the cheese factor of it all. The same can be said for choreographer Jennifer Young Mahlstead, who provides a snazzy showbiz feel to the production numbers. Scenic designer Aaron Bell provides the show with some gorgeous and whimsical set pieces, particularly the homes of Frog and Toad, built appropriately on top of giant lily pads. The costumes by Christina Montgomery have a sense of frivolity to them as well. The vaudevillian, 1930s-inspired costumes are a far departure from what you would expect for anthropomorphic characters, but they fit the characters well and are a clever nod to the illustrations in the classic children's book.
But it's the five person cast that truly carries the show. Kelly Petlin and Megan Richards Wright are charming as the female ensemble. Whether they come onstage as birds, turtles, mice, or moles, they're always a thrill to watch and hear. Josh Wechsler is also stellar as the male ensemble, particularly in the supporting role as the mail-carrying Snail. You can't help but laugh at Snail's high-pitched voice, gleeful smile, and predictably slow movement. Of the leads, Nicholas Kier is wonderful as Frog, the constantly happy, considerate friend, but it's his pal Chase Brewer as Toad who truly steals the show. Brewer plays Toad as the type of person whose emotions are a roller-coaster ride. He's either intensely happy, intensely afraid, intensely grumpy, or intensely sad, and watching Brewer oscillate between the wide range of emotions that his character shows is delightful and hysterical.
Given the incredible talent of the show's creators, creative team, and cast, it's crystal clear why A Year With Frog and Toad has such a wide appeal to such a wide audience. There's not an unlikeable thing about it. For any parents wishing to expose their young children's to theater, Frog, Toad, and their pals are the perfect theatrical introduction for any tadpoles in your pond.
A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD plays the Kleberg Stage at ZACH Theatre (1421 W. Riverside Drive, Austin 78704) now thru November 29th. Performances are Saturdays at 11am and 2pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for children and $20 for adults. For tickets and information, please visit www.zachtheatre.org