The Daily Northwestern

Theater: ‘Frog And Toad’ a delightful year in the life of friends

By Maggie Gorman

Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Updated: Thursday, November 3, 2011 01:11

It's not often that students at Northwestern sit side-by-side with 5-year-olds, let alone for over an hour to watch the same show. But in "A Year With Frog and Toad," the children's musical by Robert and Willie Reale, student audiences have found themselves laughing right along with the youngsters.

"A Year With Frog and Toad" is based on the "Frog and Toad" children's stories by Arnold Lobel, and is presented through ImagineU, a project focused on bringing theatre for young audiences to NU's Theatre and Interpretation Center. The story follows the upbeat Frog and the worrywart Toad through a year out of hibernation, along with their friends: Mouse, Turtle, the three Birds and Snail. From springtime to Christmas, Sophie Rich brings the musical year to life with a soft-spoken, simple optimism, making it impossible for even the grumpiest theatergoer to leave feeling jaded.

The characters themselves seem to exude the same bright, colorful hues of the set, which change with each passing season of the year. Zach Piser in particular, as Frog, brings unexpected wisdom and joy to the table. Providing a foil to Piser's cheery Frog is Jake Perlman as the bumbling yet well-meaning Toad. As with the rest of the cast, Perlman embodies both his character's animal and personal qualities, creating a space for understated comedy to arise — kids and theater majors alike can't help but giggle at Perlman's animated tuba serenade to the seeds he is trying to grow, with music and interpretive dance as encouragement. Rounding out the ensemble are hilariously spot-on character performances from Taylor Bostwick as sassy Turtle and Gabrielle FeBland as a perfectly portrayed mouse, along with Meg Lowey, Kylie Mullins and Darrin French as feathered-friend narrators. Ben Barker as the spunky Snail steals the stage with his impassioned, if slow, journey through the postal system, showing off a unique and skilled vocal style along the way.

Perfect casting (the petite, squeaky FeBland as Mouse and amphibious-limbed 6'5" dance major Josh Rubietta as Large And Terrible Frog) keeps the plot universally entertaining without playing too much to just the kids, as the show's moral messages are applicable for both kids and adults. In the hilarious and relatable "Get a Loada Toad," Toad refuses to go swimming because he "looks funny in a bathing suit." When Turtle catches on and spreads the news, Toad's predicament reveals a useful lesson for kids and grown-ups alike: It's all about confidence. Seemingly simple songs about things such as raking leaves, flying a kite and baking cookies are actually thinly veiled moral messages, giving the play a subtle depth that will appeal to older audiences.

Whether you're a kid deep down or are just looking to see what NU's theatre-for-young-audiences community has to offer, "A Year with Frog and Toad" is a bright gem that's easy on the ears as well as the heart.

A Year With Frog and Toad will play in Struble Theater on Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

— Maggie Gorman