As my daughter and I sit down in the Casa Mañana Theatre, I honestly do not know what to expect. I fondly remember the productions I saw at this theatre as a child and hope that A Year With Frog & Toad will be as memorable for my daughter and create in her a desire to see more theatrical productions in the future. The show does not disappoint us. Although A Year With Frog & Toad is aimed toward children ages three to ten, it is a charming, intimate production that is enjoyable for the whole family. My daughter is eleven and engages with every minute of the performance.
A Year With Frog & Toad is the story of a year in the lives two friends, cheery Frog and slightly grumpy Toad. The two companions are joined by other characters in the forest as they sing and dance their way through the seasons. They share adventures and learn how close their friendship is throughout the course of the story. Although the production offers plenty of entertainment, several important themes emerge during Frog’s and Toad’s adventures. The two friends learn lessons on the value of patience, the impact of empathy, the effect of harsh words, the consequences of jumping to conclusions, and the value of being yourself.
Every aspect of the production seems dedicated to drawing the audience members into the story. Simple and quaint, the set design immediately creates a welcoming environment. In the center of the stage are two simple houses. One has “Toad” written on the mail box in front of the house and the other reads “Frog.” The colors are earthy, but bright. The often humorous music, brightly colored costumes, and lively choreography are alluringly reminiscent of vaudeville. I especially appreciate that the characters do not wear (and therefore do not depend on) animal costumes; they wear fun, 1920s-era clothes. The actors’ speech and actions reveal each character’s animal identity. At each turn, the audience is not asked to judge the characters harshly, but rather to consider its reaction as the story illuminates the human feelings at stake in each situation. The absence of animal costumes encourages the audience to focus on the characters’ feelings as human, thereby enabling a connection between the audience and the performance.
The actors give energetic and strong performances. Mathieu Whitman enthusiastically depicts Frog as a caring and reliable friend. Joseph Pyfferoen’s portrayal of Toad elicits empathy from the audience. He truly seems to be the “misunderstood” character that Frog sings about twice. David Weins is downright funny as Snail when he alternates between moving in slow motion and performing “The Letter” with quick-paced fervor. Weins, along with Samantha Whitbeck and Kathryn Porterfield, play five roles each and seem to seamlessly transition between costumes and characters with relative ease.
Overall, I would say that A Year With Frog & Toad is a good production for children, and is enjoyable for adults as well. I notice a few instances where a dance step is possibly missed or feel that a particular moment is over-acted. However, these moments are brief and not distracting. As we leave the theatre, we are smiling, and planning our next show to see together.