Updated: Mar 20, 2019
Rainbow Company Youth Theatre is offering a delightful, wholesome presentation of “A Year with the Frog and Toad” just in time for the holidays. A full-length, live-orchestra musical that’s suitable for the entire family, at just five dollars a pop you get loads of entertainment for your buck.
Based on the 1970’s “Frog and Toad” children’s books written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, the 2002 musical was conceived for the stage by his daughter Adrianne and in 2003 was the first professional children’s theater production to make it to Broadway. With music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale, the score is inspired by vaudeville and the Big Band jazz of the 1930’s, with Reale particularly inspired by the Hal Roach Orchestra and the musicals of Fred Astaire.
Directed and choreographed with a gentle, organic feel by Karen McKenney, the almost all-kid production takes its cues from the Depression-era in looks and style, with dancers doing the Charleston and soft-shoe type shuffles. The earthy costumes of Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova include plenty of period appropriate tweed breeches, bomber jackets, and silky flapper-style dresses. The marshy wetland set by Kristopher Van Riper is replete with toadstools and cattails and nicely evokes the muted green, brown, and yellow drawings of the original author. And the sound of Joel Ruud uses calming nature noises while the lights of Jody Caley feature seasonal rich colors which complement and flesh-out the enchanted scene.
This is the home of our lovable heroes Frog, played with carefree whimsy by Keegan Nakano, and Toad, played with ornery charm by David “Billy” Tovar. Both being amphibians they are alike in some ways, but at the same time are also quite different. Frog is green, tall and thin, while Toad is brown, short and stocky. Frog is easy going and Toad is rather cranky. But opposites attract, and they are best friends who can’t live without each other.
Since many creatures tend to inhabit outdoor places, they share their habitat with birds, a mouse, a snail, a turtle, a lizard, squirrels, and moles. We meet them all as we watch Frog and Toad’s short stories unfold, with the narrative mostly sung by the cast through catchy, jazzy tunes and framed by the four seasons of the year.
The show opens as the buddies awaken in April from winter hibernation though the grumpy Toad would rather keep sleeping. In “Spring,” the lovely little flock of Birds return from their wintering grounds and flit around gracefully in their flapper dresses as they sing harmoniously “The sun is out, the sky is clear, so let’s begin another year.” Toad is sad and angry that he has never received any mail so Frog writes him a letter to cheer him up. The only problem is the postmaster happens to be Snail, played with showstopping elan by Deimoni Brewington, who moves very slowly so there’s no telling when the letter will arrive. Brewington displays masterful vocal ability and acting chops as he sings “I’m a snail with the mail” in his solo “The Letter,” which he carries hilariously in his poky way through the audience in a reprise to the delight of young and old alike. He finally delivers the letter near the end of Act II with the triumphant “I’m Coming Out of My Shell,” a fitting end to a long but very funny journey.
When Autumn comes and the leaves fall, Frog and Toad separately wish to surprise each other by secretly raking the other’s yard. The mischievous Squirrels mess up their hard work, but the song “He’ll Never Know” proves to be a fun duet, with the two dancing a soft-shoe using the rakes as their canes. Both Nakano and Tovar create fully realized characters and camaraderie with their endearing portrayals, but seem shy when it’s time to sing. They become quiet during their songs, which might be too intricate and difficult for their young voices to carry. But it would be nice if they were a little louder, so we could better hear the lyrics.
Vocal coach Andrea Shepherd otherwise coaxes excellent singing from her performers, especially from the beautifully harmonious Birds. Led by musical director/conductor/keyboardist Joseph L. Cottone, the nine piece band is impressive and a real treat in this day and age of taped music.
“A Year With Frog and Toad” is a fun family outing for the holidays, and even has a Christmas Carol called “Merry Almost Christmas” to get you in the spirit.