By Bev Redman, director
For many of us, we learned some of the first facets of friendship while reading Arnold Lobel’s beloved series of books about the ever-cheerful Frog, the curmudgeonly Toad, and all of their friends that live with them down in the grasses. Lobel’s Frog and Toad books are timeless and the pure-hearted Broadway musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, opening at Williams Theatre on September 21, is proving to be equally adored over time.
But parents and grandparents beware! You should know from the outset that little kids really, really relate to these two friends and find creative ways to reflect these joyful stories in their own friendships. In other words, your hearts will swell just watching them enjoy themselves.
While the musical speaks specifically to boys and girls who have yet to reach the age of personal iPhones and Korean boy bands like K-Pop, adults can spend some tranquil time in the theatre with their little ones enjoying this gentle, agreeable production about the simple friendship of two slime-free amphibians set to song.
It was a daring leap of faith in 2003, to take the musical by brothers Willie Reale (book and lyrics) and Robert Reale (music) from the Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis to New York City. In a metropolis, where theatre tickets soar past $100, it played to packed houses at the jewel box called the New Victory Theater.
The musical follows Frog and Toad through four colorful seasons, from hibernation to hibernation, featuring catchy tunes, funny dialogue, and bright, memorable characters. Whether they’re rushing down a hill in a runaway sled with their playful, quirky friends Snail, Turtle, and the Birds, or losing all willpower when confronted with the cookie jar, or taking a picnic in the summer, their adventures make for some of the simplest — and most enjoyable – moments on stage.
A Year with Frog and Toad is the first children’s theatre production done by our department and it has posed new types of challenges for us. The genre demands a broad style of performance—big facial expressions and definitive character traits formed with the whole body in grand strokes.
We started with simply focusing on the relationship Frog and Toad share with each other and with their neighbors, giving it as much realistic depth as possible, before layering it with the bigger-than-life qualities of the Children’s Theatre genre. The journey has involved seeking that balance between authentic connection and strong moment-to-moment actions, while also playing it big. We have been keenly aware that if it reaches the level of mere cartoon, the humanity and friendship we are trying to represent might be lost.
And Toad and Frog are, indeed, friends, and their respect for each other comes through in every song and scene. Even though the characters are fictional, the feelings they share are very real, and the care they show for each other and the world around them resonates with adults, as well as children.
In our increasingly fast-paced world, where friendships are often seen through a digital filter, it’s good to be reminded that sharing the simplest adventures with our best friends often brings us the greatest joy. And, that includes going to the theatre with your favorite children.