Review: ‘A Year With Frog and Toad’ at Adventure Theatre
By Celia Wren
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The soap bubbles that cascade onto the stage midway through Adventure Theatre’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” make an apt emblem for this amiable, classy-looking children’s production about two amphibian pals. Admiring soap bubbles is one of life’s simple pleasures, and Robert Reale and Willie Reale’s 2002 musical (based on the books by Arnold Lobel) is a paean to uncomplicated diversions, such as sledding, tending a garden and drinking tea with your web-footed best friend.
And swimming — that’s the pastime director Michael Baron evokes with the bubble sequence. When Frog (Vishal Vaidya) and Toad (Sean Maurice Lynch) take a dip in their local pond, they find the water cold, and they have to brave the gawking of Turtle, Mouse and Lizard (Ariel Vinitsky, Kirstin Riegler and Jobari Parker-Namdar), who have heard a rumor that Toad looks funny in a bathing suit. Still, the chums get their laps in — hence the glissade of bubbles, which suggests water churned and splashed by swimmers’ limbs.
The low-tech special effect is just one of the nice touches in this sweet-tempered show, which is a collaboration between Adventure and the University of Maryland’s School of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. The hour-long production (recommended for audiences age 4 and up) larks gently about on a wonderful marshland set designed by Collin Ranney (a U-Md. graduate student). Towering over the waterlilies that mosaic the stage floor are giant dandelions and green and brown rushes — plants tall enough to create the illusion that you, yourself, are not much bigger than a tadpole.
Fitting smoothly into this picturesque environment are Vaidya’s Frog and Lynch’s Toad, who look professorial in tweeds and (when hibernating) colorful bathrobes. U-Md. grad student Chelsey Schuller designed the fetching retro costumes, which include an autumn leaf Toad wears as an apron when he bakes cookies. While not electrifying, the lead performances are very watchable, and the actors’ attention to contrasting temperaments — Frog is all serene cherubic beaming; Toad is shy, cranky and suspicious — makes a touching statement about the mystery of friendship.
Sometimes overshadowing the title roles are the diverse critters sharply etched by Parker-Namdar, Riegler and Vinitsky. Dressed in brown suits and orange boas, the trio sings and executes bobbing, sashaying dance steps as an affable chorus of migrating birds, for instance, and Riegler scurries around enjoyably as a Mouse. But it’s Parker-Namdar who steals the show when he shuffles enthusiastically on — camouflage sleeping bag strapped to his back — as a very slow, but very excited, letter-carrying Snail. (“I’m the snail with the mail, / I’ll deliver without fail. . . . I put the ‘go’ in escargot!” he carols in a sonorous voice.)
Almost hidden in the rushes behind the actors is the three-piece band, headed by Aaron Broderick, who plies a keyboard and, in his role as music director, keeps the buoyant, music-hall score clocking along — a zesty earful for all creatures great and small.
Music by Robert Reale; book and lyrics, Willie Reale; based on the books by Arnold Lobel. Directed by Michael Baron; choreography, Kate Arnold Wernick; sound design, Neil McFadden; lighting, Ariel Benjamin; properties, Dre Moore. One hour. Recommended for age 4 and up.