A Year With Frog and Toad
With a peppy, jazz-infused score by Robert Reale, and book and lyrics by Willie Reale, the tales of the optimistic Frog and the not-a-morning-person Toad thankfully come to life without literal attempts to portray the characters as Disney-like cartoon animals. The subtly costumed actors do not seem to lose the children in this process. I overheard many kids referring to the actors by their animal names throughout the performance.
Whether sledding down the snowy winter hill, cooling off with a summer swim or raking those pesky leaves of autumn, these two lifelong friends find joy in the simplicity of their experiences together. But there's also something refreshing about the song "Alone," in which Frog explains the value of time to himself. For children labeled as "shy" or "quiet" in school, this scene affirms that it's okay to appreciate introspective solitude.
The most creative aspect of Stoneham's Frog and Toad is the production team's decision to set the musical in a colorful Boston Common with a very recognizable city skyline in the distance painted by Holly McClung. There are huge blades of moveable grass behind household furniture and appliances built from scaled-up replicas of old Boston-branded containers. Kudos to Director Caitlin Lowans, Set Designer Audra Avery, Costume Designer Joanna Murphy and Properties Master Basia Goszczynska for the successful design collaboration.
Steven Barkhimer offers a jolly Frog. Edward M. Barker renders a slightly grumpy Toad, though he could have gone a bit further to amplify the comedic contrast with Barkhimer's optimistic Frog. The pair truly shine in the amusing production numbers "Cookies," with crumbs flying everywhere, and "Shivers." The boy behind me was so startled by this monster tale that he was talking about the song 20 minutes later ("Grandma, why did Frog decide to tell that scary story? I didn't like it").
Mary Callanan, Matt Spano and Ceit McCaleb Zweil play a variety of other animalsboth friends and foes of the main characters. Their trio of tweeting birds bookends the show very nicely. Spano has some of the best supporting material in the script as "the snail with the mail," but it is Zweil who makes her mark in this production as Turtle leading the witty musical number "Getta Loada Toad."
The production team also includes Music Director Mario Cruz, Lighting Designer Chris Fournier, Sound Designer Robbie Jarvis, Choreographer Ilyse Robbins and Production Stage Manager L. Arkansas Light.
A Year With Frog and Toad is a fantastic opportunity to introduce children to the unbeatable magic of live theatre. The production runs through March 15 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, Massachusetts. For the performance schedule and tickets, visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call the box office at (781) 279-2200.