Arnold Lobel wrote and illustrated children’s books. His most popular were four books published in the early 1970s about two amphibian friends, Frog and Toad. I’m not certain what the exact difference is between a frog and a toad, but in the stories Frog is more cheery and relaxed than Toad, who is an uptight worrywart.
Lobel’s daughter Adrianne commissioned a musical based on her father’s characters, and her husband, the actor Mark Linn-Baker, adapted the stories into a theatrical script. After workshops with music by Robert Reale and lyrics and a revised book by his brother Willie Reale, A Year with Frog and Toad opened off-Broadway in 2002 and moved to Broadway the next year, where Linn-Baker played Toad.
The year begins in early spring, when a chorus of three birds have returned from the south and Frog and Toad are awakening from their hibernation, with considerable effort by Frog to get Toad out of bed. The year continues with a series of ordinary actions and events, given some drama by the contrast between the two friends and by their encounters with other animal inhabitants of the neighborhood, all properly anthropomorphised. Toad plants a garden and sings and dances to encourage the plants to grow. Because Toad says he has never received a litter, Frog writes him one and gives it to Snail the Mailman to deliver (any relation between this snail mail and what we now call snail mail I have not discovered). They go swimming in the pond, with Toad embarrassed to be seen in his swimsuit. They bake cookies. They fly a kite. They rake leaves in the autumn as the birds fly south. When it snows, they ride a sled down a hill, causing a rift in their friendship, which is healed when Snail finally delivers the letter that expresses Frog’s great affection for his friend Toad. They celebrate Christmas and return to hibernation, and the year ends as the birds return again in the spring. Their year has been without complications that might make it difficult for a young child to follow. The writers of children’s stories such as Peter Pan and the Winnie-the-Pooh tales slip in touches of wit and amusing observations of human nature to awaken adult interest. I found little of that in A Year with Frog and Toad.
But I did find much to appreciate and enjoy in the current production by Fly North Theatricals at the Marcelle Theatre. Fly North is a relatively new company that has impressed me with the few things they have done. The leaders of the company, Bradley Rohlf and Colin Healy, also teach theatre classes, and they like to include their students in their productions. Except for the two producers – Rohlf plays Frog, Healy plays Toad – the cast are all their students. They make their teachers look good, who do not outshine them sharing the stage.
Ella Penico, Trey Perlut, and Claudia Taylor are the three birds. Aidan Gildehaus is Snail the Mailman. Sarah Brown is a Mouse and Mole, Julia Harris is a Turtle and a Large and Terrible Frog, and Aislyn Morrow is a Lizard and a Mole. Alicia Reve Like directed the well-planned and well-paced production. Jermaine Manor directed the music and Jeremy Jacobs leads the four-piece combo. Angela Brandow and Carly Niehaus choreographed the dances. Lauren Perry designed the set that calls on the audience’s imagination in the happiest way. Sam Hayes designed the clever costumes – loved Toad’s swimsuit. Mason Hagarty is Stage Manager and Light Board Operator.
A Year with Frog and Toad makes its own contribution to those stories in which we find human qualities in the animals around us.