by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
ATTENTION, CENTRAL VALLEY!
If you want to support quality local theatre, if you want to laugh like a child, and if you want to feel good about the Christmas season, you WILL go to see the StageWorks Fresno production of A Year with Frog and Toad at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre through December 16. You WILL take your friends. You WILL take children (Rent them if you don’t have them). You WILL take someone you care about.
Based on the I-Can-Read beginner books by Arnold Lobel, with book and lyrics by Willie Reale and music by Robert Reale, Frog and Toad is a big musical for a small cast, telling the adventures of a benevolently-friendly Frog (Brent Moser) and a conclusion-jumping, overly-anxious toad (Joel C. Abels). This show delights in the wonder of small things, mining dramatic impact from planting a garden, sending a letter, wearing swimsuits, being alone, baking, flying a kite, telling spooky stories, sledding, and waiting for Christmas. It’s simple. It’s wonderful. It’s simply wonderful. These tales are old friends to the children’s librarian in me, and it wouldn’t hurt to read some of the books in the series before you see the show.
Moser and Abels have an ease and charm in their working together that stems from a decades-long friendship. Moser’s Frog is an easy-going, Bing Crosby-ish fellow, able to handle any situation without losing his cool, even when Toad goes closer to Jerry Lewis than Bob Hope. His singing voice has a richness I’d apparently overlooked in the past, and anyone who can move gracefully in massive frog feet has my admiration (Why does Frog have brown feet and Toad have green feet? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?).
Abel’s Toad is quirky, more self-conscious, obtuse, and toad-ally lovable. You’ll be toad away by his obsessive encouragement of the flower seeds he has planted, his strenuous efforts to put a kite in the air, and his determination to save the life of his friend—who must be in serious danger because he has not arrived on time.
The cast of Frog and Toad fills the stage, even though there are only five performers in the cast. The ensemble trio portrays the other creatures of the woods and pond. Each one has a star-turn moment to capture the hearts of the audience.
Cody Bianchi is a preening bird, a quick lizard, and…a snail on a mission, fleet of tongue and slow of foot, who will make you smile anytime you think of the term “snail mail.” He even makes squishy sounds that will make you squirm. His costume subtly suggests his snailness, carrying his lodging on his back.
One of Hayley Galbraith’s costumes will suddenly make sense when you realize, “She’s a box turtle!” Her underwater ballet on a dry floor suggests everything from Olympic synchronized swimming to “Gangnam style.” She also makes a sexy bird in a flapper outfit.
Amalie Larsen Van Vleet’s vocal training shows in a semi-operatic sequence as a young Frog in a scary situation that may—or may not—have happened. She also becomes a perky mouse who jogs a lot.
If nothing else, come for the cookies: warm, soft cookies (Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Oatmeal Raisin) whose aroma fills the theater at intermission time, right after a song extolling the wonders of fresh-baked cookies.
J. Daniel Herring directs this production without putting in adult wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments that are adult in nature. This is a script that brings a child’s understanding of the world up to a level that a grown-up can appreciate. Don’t just waste this show on the kids…but they’ll love it, and they’ll get a chance to see kid-accessible theatre with professional-quality performers! The children in the audience put down their video games to become absorbed in the stories, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between the delight of the adults and the youngsters. When it was over, one pre-teen told his mother, “I want to see it again.”
I agree with him.
A Year with Frog and Toad plays at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre in Fresno’s Tower District, 1401 N. Wishon Ave., through December 16. Tickets are $23.50, with student/senior admission $18.50, and $14 for children. Consider sticking around for the late-night, holiday-themed, $10 cabaret after the shows.
There’s so much great theatre going on this month and KRL will be at most of it, so keep watching for more reviews! And plan on a theatre filled holiday because you’re not going to want to miss any of it. Check out our reviews up already of Beehive and Dad’s Christmas Miracle, Ordinary Days, Beauty And The Beast, White Christmas, Tuna Christmas (KRL readers get a ticket discount for that one) and Elephant Man.