Washington, D.C. Review: A Year with Frog and Toad is Pleasantly Passed

A Year with Frog and Toad exudes an easy charm and cheer that's not unlike one of the favorite pastimes of its title characters—pleasant conversation over cups of hot tea.

The show, an amphibious creature sitting halfway between children's musical and adult musical comedy, is an engaging balance of sincerity and sophistication (with touches of sentimentality inevitably popping up between the two). Under the clever direction of Nick Olcott, Round House Theatre's production of A Year with Frog and Toad, which is based on the beloved books by Arnold Lobel, is likely to delight children and draw smiles from adults—the musical features an exuberant cast and a jazzy, ably-performed score by Robert Reale and Willie Reale (who also wrote the show's book) that is almost defiantly throwback.

Frog and Toad live in two neighboring cottages in—where else?—a marsh; Joseph B. Musumeci Jr.'s set beguilingly conjures a colorful landscape of enameled foliage over a rippling pond. The two are a sort of semi-aquatic Odd Couple, but the brown-clad Toad (Steve Tipton) manages to be both Oscar and Felix—ornery, cynical and twitchily neurotic. Frog (Will Gartshore), on the other hand, is a good-natured green idealist. Of course the two, despite their conflicts, are affectionate and loyal pals.

Throughout the year, Frog and Toad encounter a series of minor existential crises—Toad's humiliation at "looking funny in a bathing suit," their mutual shame over having devoured too many cookies before lunch (both seem to be on a fly-free diet) and Toad's frustration at finding his mailbox forever empty. It's the latter plot thread that dominates the show, as the letter is literally delivered by snail mail. Snail (Bobby Smith), along with a chic trio of birds, a mocking turtle, a sassy mouse and others animals, provide Smith, Sherri L. Edelen and Erin Driscoll with the opportunity to create a memorable chorus of critters.

Both Tipton and Gartshore are terrific as Frog and Toad; they wisely play up the sharp vaudevillian humor of the piece without letting the friendship grow too maudlin. They also have fine chemistry, which is particularly strong during a number in which the two dance with brooms after having "secretly" swept the other's leaf-strewn garden. Tipton hilariously deploys a range of squints, scowls and complaints; Toad's wartier personality is probably easier to relate to for most than that of the Pollyanna-ish Frog. It is Snail, however, who crawls away with the most applause.

Smith sings "I'm Coming Out of My Shell" in full Las Vegas glitz mode, throwing off his layers to reveal a spotlight-grabbing sequined star. The Reale Brothers' jaunty score has touches of Porter and Gershwin, but the song is closer to classic Jule Styne or Cy Coleman. Despite a few forgettable numbers, the score is melodically charming and lyrically witty—i.e. the birds' migration warning "fly or get the flu," and the somewhat more advanced pun that Snail makes about his "es-cargo." Michael J. Bobbitt's choreography, however, is spirited but doesn't sufficiently highlight the animals' various idiosyncrasies.

Rosemary Pardee's costumes are usually inventive, but I did have to wonder why Lizard was dressed like the biker member of The Village People. Daniel MacLean Wagner and Harold F. Burgess III's lighting design becomingly takes Frog and Toad from morning to evening and from spring to winter, while sound designer Tony Angelini creates a lovely sonic world of plashing water and thrumming crickets.

Clocking in at a little less than two hours with intermission, A Year with Frog and Toad seems a bit long. Clever as it is, the show's earnestness and whimsy begin to wear as Frog and Toad run out of adventures. But with its musical comedy zip and endearingly mismatched soul mates, A Year with Frog and Toad is ultimately time well-spent.

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From This Author Maya Cantu

Maya Cantu recently graduated from Virginia's James Madison University, where she majored in theatre. She is very excited about starting her MFA in Dramaturgy and (read more...)

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