A Year with Frog and Toad
Music by Robert Reale
Wonderfully witty musical based on classic Arnold Lobel stories
|Chicago Children’s Theatre presents|
|A Year with Frog and Toad|
Review by Patrick Dyer
When I was young, I’d read Arnold Lobel’s classic “Frog and Toad” stories all the time. And how couldn’t I? Their humor, timelessness, and simplicity were and still are beloved by both children and parents alike. So a musical adaptation of these great stories seems like a great show for children and parents to see, right? Well, I’m very happy to say that Chicago Children’s Theatre’s production of A Year with Frog and Toad is just that kind of show.
The musical takes the smart route by adapting multiple “Frog and Toad” stories into one full piece instead of just focusing on only one. This gives the show variety in both its script and score, with the stories ranging from Toad not wanting to be seen in a bathing suit, Snail trying to deliver a letter to Toad written by Frog, Frog recounting an old ghost story, and Frog and Toad raking each other’s lawns without the other knowing. Of course, simply putting the stories on the stage doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful adaptation, but brothers Robert and Willie Reale solidly capture the essence and heart of Lobel’s characters and stories. Robert Reale’s music is infectious, colorful, and rich in melody and character whereas Willie Reale’s lyrics are both witty and funny (my personal favorite is when Frog describes Toad in the opening number: “He’s not so good at sports/And of course he’s got those warts”). Willie Reale’s book brings the stories from the page to the stage fluidly by giving them a creative theatricality. He also gives the side characters like Snail, Turtle, and the Squirrels some genuine character-based moments bringing out the heart of the tales even more.
The cast as a whole performs with great energy and dedication. They’re all clearly having the times of their lives onstage, but never to the point where they isolate themselves from the audience. At the performance I attended, the children would wave to them as they exited down through the aisles, proving that they did their job just right. Karl Hamilton is perky and kind as Frog, Mark David Kaplan is both energetic and appropriately worrisome as Toad, and both of them work off each other effectively. The ensemble have the most challenging roles since they play multiple characters, but each of them successfully differentiate from every character (no easy task). Christine Bunuan is probably the bubbliest player on the stage, Shawn Pfautsch gets the most laughs with his Snail, and Brittani Arlandis Green makes the most of her big number “Getta Loada Toad.” Directory Henry Godinez matches the energy of the cast with his fluid staging and inviting atmosphere allowing plenty of moments for both the kids and adults to enjoy the theatricality of the show.
Walt Disney once said: “You’re dead if you only aim at kids. Adults are only kids grown up anyway.” And that’s why this musical is such a success in the theater world today, both professional and non. It provides plenty of fun and creativity for children and plenty of nostalgia and heart for the adults. Watching this really brought me back to those days when I’d read a “Frog and Toad” story with my parents right before going to bed. It’s been awhile since a show gave me such a good feeling as I left the theater, and hopefully it will do the same for you.
A Year with Frog and Toad continues through November 24th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 10am, Fridays at 10am and 6pm, Saturdays 11am/2pm/6pm, Sundays 11am and 2pm. Tickets are $28-$43, and are available by phone (872-222-9555) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoChildrensTheatre.org. (Running time: 70 minutes, NO intermission)
Photos by Charles Osgood
Karl Hamilton (Frog), Mark David Kaplan (Toad), Christine Bunuan (Young Frog, Ensemble), Brittani Arlandis Green (Turtle, Ensemble), Shawn Pfautsch (Snail, Ensemble), Michael Henry, Jessica Kingsdale, Neil Stratman (understudies)
behind the scenes
Robert Reale (music), Willie Reale (book & lyrics), Henry Godinez (director), Tommy Rapley (choreography), Andra Velis Simon, Nicholas Davio (co-music directors), Geoffrey Curley (set design), William Kirkham (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Kimberly Morris (props design), JoHannah Hail (stage manager), Rebecca Louise Fischer, Andi Sturtevant (assistant stage managers), Charles Osgood (photos)