The hits just keep coming for the Helen Hayes winning Adventure Theatre and the current production, A Year with Frog and Toad, shows why. They focus on the art in artistry while totally tuned in to fun bringing unanticipated twists to well-known tales. A winning combination.
An example of the sophisticated artistry is apparent from the beginning. You might not expect to hear early ragtime rendered by a cool three-piece combo when going to children’s theatre, but it’s another case of the wonderfully unexpected at Adventure Theatre. At rise on the beautiful set by Colin Ranney, Frog and Toad are nestled comfortably in their individual hammocks hibernating over the winter. The ensemble struts in, dressed to the nines in vintage brown suits, traveling attire, (costumes by Chelsey Schuller). Sporting sun glasses and carrying suitcases they announce their return from the South for the winter. Only after a couple of takes is it apparent that the travelers represent a flock of migrating birds who can tap dance and boogie with the best of them, (choreography by Kate Arnold Wernick). The entire show is like that, zigging where you thing a zag is coming, toppling your expectations and heightening anticipation, catching you off guard with snazzy motifs while taking you on the adventure with these two fab friends.
Frog, played cheerfully by Vishal Vaidya, exudes a warmth and wholesome glow as he hops along, singing his tunes, and thinking up projects to enjoy being with his best friend, Toad, played with an easy grumpiness by Sean Maurice Lynch, in the ultimate bro-mance ever.
Between the two, they share adventures that span the seasons, starting with the joys of Spring, where Frog coaches Toad into waiting patiently for the flowers they just planted to sprout, and then, of course, up they pop. Summer offered the most innovative and engaging experience ever where the cast brings out a long swatch of blue cloth representing the edge of the pool for the front row participants to hold and shake as waves. Talk about loads of fun, especially with the splashing sound effects by Neil McFadden.
Director Michael Baron makes the show bounce with innovation and charm. He even made the best of a sensitive situation when Toad expressed being self-conscious about wearing his bathing suit. With playful lyrics for “Did Ya Hear About Toad,” engaging dance movements, the winning ensemble helped to balance the group’s giddy though gossipy romp.
Summer’s escapades ended with falling leaves, and through it all, the two find ways to have fun together. They make it very clear how much each means to the other, as seen in one skit where they rake each other’s leaves trying to secretly help the other, only some cute mischievous squirrels, again in imaginatively simple costumes, mess up the piles. Still, Frog and Toad snack together, have tea, hop along the lily pads, and tenderly attend to each other’s needs. In one touching sketch, Frog has gone off to have some alone time. When Toad gets worried that he’s upset his friend, Vaidya as Frog responds with the warmest reaction, that no, he’s not upset, he just needed the time to himself, and now that Toad is there, all is well for them to play together some more, which is what he wants most in the world. (Collective group sigh here – Awwwhh!!).
In the Winter, when Frog is thrown from the sled that leaves Toad all alone to maneuver, Toad is so hopping mad that the friendship is jeopardized. All is resolved when Toad discovers how much Frog values his friendship in a very touching scene. In addition, the segment adds a whole new meaning to snail mail, as portrayed by Jobari Parker-Namdar, as adorable as in his previous role in Mirandy and Brother Wind.
Other highlights in the cast are Kirstin Riegler who can hit the high notes in full operatic soprano, and Ariel Vinitsky who adds an energetic and cheerful glee to the ensemble.
The full-fledged Frog and Toad musical took Broadway by storm and got all kinds of Tony® nominations. I don’t see how it could be more entertaining than the production at Adventure Stage, available at a fraction of the price.
A Year with Frog and Toad
Book and Lyrics by Willie Reale
Music by Robert Reale
Directed by Michael Baron
Produced by Adventure Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie M. Jackson
Running time: 1 hr with no intermission