BWW Review: A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD Returns to Children's Theatre
Nearly 10 years after this production garnered three Tony nominations in a Broadway run, it's back at the home that commissioned and created it: Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis. Based on Arnold Lobel's Caldecott and Newberry winning fables about friendship between Frog, a fairly organized fellow, and Toad, who is much less together, it models how we can bond with those unlike us, if we are kind, and we listen.
The cast of five are all CTC regulars. Bradley Greenwald plays the put-together Frog with gentle authority, especially audible when he sings. He's able to reassure and steady his more volatile friend Toad, played by Reed Sigmund, who is funny without ever belittling the emotional ups and downs familiar to children and parents. Together they manage the events of a year. After waking from hibernation, they plant, go swimming (despite Toad's attendant body anxieties), rake fall leaves, and so forth.
They are supported by a chorus of three (Autumn Ness, Traci Allen Shannon, and Matt Rubbelke) who play birds, moles, squirrels, and other creatures as necessary, including the snail who delivers mail, the closest thing to a suspenseful story line this show offers.
Willie Reale penned the adaptation. He's famous for founding the 52nd Street Project that pairs NY actors with children to write collaborative short plays for themselves, and he's got a great ear for children's fears, questions, and needs. His brother Robert Reale wrote the music. Originally directed by David Petrarca, local eminent director Peter Rothstein helmed this outing, with choreography (mostly nostalgic softshoe numbers) by Daniel Pelzig, whose opera credits are distinguished.
As always at Children's Theater, the design elements are top notch. Lobel's daughter Adrianne Lobel is the scenic designer, and has kept the look very faithful to her father's books. Costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) are inventive and fun. Songs are short and tuneful, and a full pit of seven live musicians supports the singers. Lots of audience kids really liked hanging over the pit edge to watch them warming up.
More than any other show so far this season, this one would work for very young children: it plays in two acts with a fifteen minute intermission. Total running time is well under two hours. Rarely are all 5 characters on stage at once, and lighting and sound effects are not startling. If you have a sensitive, easily stimulated young one you want to introduce to live theater, and they can handle being in a big room with lots of other people, this is worth a try. CTC also has a quiet room at the back, if your child needs a break. They offer ASL and sensory friendly performances, too. Check the website calendar. The show runs through June 18.
Photo credit: Dan Norman