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The latest children's production to be presented at Raleigh Little Theatre is a musical treat. A Year with Frog and Toad, based on the books by Arnold Lobel, is written for the wee ones. With music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale, Frog and Toad presents us with what goes on in the lives of many of the woodland animals over the course of a year, using the four seasons as a timetable. There were plenty of the small children on hand to witness this year on opening night; the show was a sellout.
The production was interactive for the kids, giving lots of chances for the children to be involved in what was going on. For the second song of the evening, "Spring," several of the young ones were able to present, for example, the rising sun, a couple of energetic ants, and a few new spring flowers to the audience. This interactive aspect of the show continued right through to the end, when several of the kids held up magical "flames" to represent Toad's burning fireplace. This aspect of the show kept the families interested and active, and kept the kids focused on what was happening onstage.
The year begins in the spring, when the birds return to the glen from down south. The birds (Cate Farrell, Skysha Jones, and Julie Sultan) announced the coming of spring by sliding down a pole like firemen, much to the delight of the children. Frog (Jason Tyne-Zimmerman) and Toad (Joshua Kellum) were both fast asleep in hibernation; they talked to each other in their dreams. Very soon after, they awakened and greeted each other, preparing to go about their daily lives together in the glen.
The passing of time and what Frog and Toad do with it, rather than any complication, was what drove the show. We came to learn that Toad is the more conservative of the two, being ashamed of how he looks in a bathing suit, being impatient at the length of time it takes to grow seeds into flowers, and generally being the one of the pair who is more afraid of life. Frog, on the other hand, was just plain happy to be a frog. He kept Toad on an even keel, and the two shared a series of misadventures from spring right into winter and Christmas.
Director Sue Scarborough used every inch of the Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre to present this show, having multi-level stages to represent various parts of the glen, and using lots of different ways to show the passage of time. The beds of Frog and Toad were at opposite sides of the stage, ensconced within the audience. Before showtime, many of the children ran to see what was placed nearby, checking out the beds and going up and down the stepping-stones to each residence. Furniture was placed directly in front of the audience, so that the children lucky enough to be seated above the tables in the kitchens, for example, could look right down on what was happening. One child was so enthralled and into the show that Toad actually acknowledged her during the song, "Merry Almost Christmas."
Musical director Ashlea Burton kept the music on track. All of the animals were animated and bright, and seemed happy to be doing what animals do in the glen. Much was made of Frog's letter to Toad, which he asked Snail to deliver for him ("Snail-mail"). It took most of the show for Snail (Michael McKenna) to cross the glen to get Toad's letter to him. It came in the nick of time, and reminded Toad how much of a friend Frog was to him. McKenna nicely played Snail with a sense of purpose, a bright smile, and lots of enthusiasm.
As is true of most children's shows, there was also an aspect of fun for the parents, who got to enjoy the inside jokes that may have passed over their children's heads. In this show there was much to enjoy for everyone. From the clever costumes by Jenny Mitchell to the excellent choreography of Sue Hill, each part of A Year with Frog and Toad was imaginative and enthusiastically presented.
This unusual and interesting show is a real winner and fun for the whole family. So grab the children and run to see A Year with Frog and Toad at RLT. You'll have the kids talking about it for days thereafter.
A Year with Frog and Toad continues through Sunday, November 22. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.