‘Frog and Toad’ a delight for young and old
By performing at the 360-seat Wimberly Theatre and hiring Broadway veteran Danielle Ferland to direct, the Boston Children’s Theatre raises the bar on the quality expected from their production of “A Year With Frog and Toad.’’ And they do not disappoint.
With a cast made up exclusively of teens and younger kids, the BCT ensemble delivers a polished, professional-level production that captures the sweetness and simplicity of “A Year With Frog and Toad’’ without ever slipping into condescension.
The musical, written by brothers Willie and Robert Reale (“Johnny Baseball’’), does not try to embellish Arnold Lobel’s delightfully spare children’s books about a friendship between a Frog (Ian Shain) and a Toad (William Goldstein). Instead, with hummable tunes that range from jazz to upbeat pop, it celebrates the fun they have together planting seeds, making cookies, going for a swim, sledding, and raking leaves.
Avoiding the temptation to overact, Shain and Goldstein manage to create amphibians who are always sincere and never slimy. Goldstein’s take on Toad’s interpretive dance to celebrate spring is perfectly controlled silliness, while Shain’s serious Frog makes his fondness for his friend clear even when he sings that he enjoys being “Alone.’’
Although the focus is on the two friends, the world in which they live is also important, and the duo are visited by mice, birds, a snail, bees, squirrels, and moles. The original production consisted of just five cast members, but BCT understandably adds a few more for a total company of 16. Among the standouts are the wonderfully sassy Futaba Shioda, the Turtle who is quick to spread the word that Toad looks funny in a bathing suit (“Getta Loada Toad’’); Alex Aroyan, who lends a terrific singing voice to the “Snail with the Mail’’; and Young Frog (Audree Hedequist), who appears in Frog’s scary story about his confrontation with a Large and Terrible Frog (Conrad Kendel-Clark) and knows how to command a stage, even at age 7.
Ferland, who starred in the original Broadway production of “A Year With Frog and Toad,’’ understands not only how to stay true to the childlike spirit of the stories, but how to elicit mature, thoughtful performances from the children in her cast. She gets ample assistance from a creative team that includes music director Rob Rucinski; award-winning designer Janie Howland, whose set includes some playful surprises; and choreographer Brian Dillon, who creates eye-catching and effective dance combinations that show off his young performers’ talents.
But the real critics for this production were the kids in the audience, many of whom had high expectations, since they knew the stories. The twins Pete and Max, 4 1/2, who sat next to me, not only leaned forward, but occasionally stood up, so enchanted were they by the on-stage antics. When asked which character was their favorite, Pete chose the Large and Terrible Frog, but Max thought for a minute and then replied, “I liked everyone.’’
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.