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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

smooth-skinned,

web-footed, largely aquatic, tailless, agile leaping amphibian,

whereas

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

dictionary)

those life-long amphibian friends Frog (Jay Goede) and Toad (the

wart-less

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

brotherhood,

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

pleasurable

about Goede and Linn-Baker’s portrayals, is the complete lack of

condescension

in their tone or manner, both actors reveling in the sheer bliss of

their character’s intellectual limitations and in the utter joy his

endeavors.

Yes, there is a basically moral and ethical road that these

comparatively

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

Pelzig

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

move-over,

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

vaudeville

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

becomes

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

delightfully

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

personality-driven

characteristics.

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

A Year with Frog and Toad, Cort Theater, 138 West 48th

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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