Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 11, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Frog & Toad’
Unaccustomed as I am to ask help from a dictionary
to find out the meaning of a word (I’m fibbing), I did just that in
the case of "A Year With Frog and Toad." I must have missed
the day that one or the other was dissected in biology class. As it
also wasn’t made clear enough for me in the otherwise very clear and
altogether clever little musical that the Reale brothers (book by
Willie, music by Robert) created based on the children’s books of
Arnold Lobel, I consulted Mr. Webster. A frog, you see, is a
web-footed, largely aquatic, tailless, agile leaping amphibian,
a toad (are you with me?) is more terrestrial, squat, shorter and
most notable for its warts.
Therefore let me commend the collaborators and their director David
Petrarka for anthropomorphizing (discovered while I was in the
those life-long amphibian friends Frog (Jay Goede) and Toad (the
Mark Linn-Baker), the principal characters in the popular series of
pre-school picture books. As they are endearingly perceived to embody
such noble human character traits and pursuits as loyalty and
it’s nice to see them, especially in song, minus the croaking. This,
as they have adventures throughout a calendar year that serves to
explain (sort of) their enduring bond. What is particularly
about Goede and Linn-Baker’s portrayals, is the complete lack of
in their tone or manner, both actors reveling in the sheer bliss of
their character’s intellectual limitations and in the utter joy his
Yes, there is a basically moral and ethical road that these
uncomplicated friends embark upon beyond the cozy comforts of their
side-by-side homes. Despite the fact that Frog is a fashion plate
and a model of social graces and Toad is a bit grouchy and timid,
they support and compliment each other in the simplest of ways. And
during the course of four seasons, identified either by gently falling
snow or leaves, or by growing spring flowers or a summer day’s attempt
at kite flying, there are lessons about life to be learned. These
are presented through innocent discourse and sweet songs. Daniel
choreographs the sprightly dances).
That a musical specifically designed and made appealing for children
(probably best suited for those between the ages of three and five)
should find its way to Broadway is something unusual in itself. First
presented at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, and then
with great success at New York’s New Victory Theater, "A Year"
may seem like an unlikely contender for a successful Broadway
especially considering its top ticket price of $90. But for those
who have no qualms about spending big bucks on little tykes for a
90-minute (with intermission) show, you can’t go wrong with this as
a child’s introduction to theater. I noticed that the pre-schoolers
in the audience were squealing with delight and generally having more
fun than the older children. I had no difficulty regressing and being
charmed by the lively ingratiating performances, delightful songs,
and the bright, colorful and whimsical settings (by Adrianne Lobel,
the author’s daughter) and costumes (Martin Pakledinaz).
The episodic adventures of Frog and Toad play out almost like
acts. They include such humorously depicted events as a perilous ride
down a slippery slope ("I’m a terrified Toad on a runaway sled,
soon I am going to be dead."); a day of baking cookies that
a cookie orgy ("we go kooky eating cookies"); the intricacies
of flying a kite ("I don’t see it anywhere, I guess it must be
on the ground"); and the telling of scary stories on a dark and
stormy night. These may not seem very dramatic, but they are so
wrapped in melodic songs and in the versatile performing that you
may not worry that there is no real conflict or narrative thrust.
A snail (Frank Vlastnik) that happens to be the mailman
("No snail has feet more fleeta, Why I’m practically a Cheetah,
I put the go in escargot") supplies the only through line. There
is tension wondering whether an important letter will ever get to
its destination. Vlastnik, Danielle Ferland, and Jennifer Gambatese
give other frogs, a turtle, mouse, lizard and squirrels winning
The show’s final scene takes place on Christmas Eve as Frog sings
to Toad: "I’ll be with you ev’ry Christmas, We both know that’s
understood, Many many nights like this one, If we’re lucky knock on
Wood." Would that the show sticks around until Christmas. One
doesn’t often see such polished theatricality and genuine artistic
attention lavished on theater for the young. That it has been makes
it just as wondrous for the old.
— Simon Saltzman
Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Tickets
$25 to $90. The show plays in New York to June 15 before embarking
on a national tour. Three stars: You won’t feel cheated.
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