Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Year with Frog and Toad

I have heard for years that “A Year with Frog and Toad” with music by Robert Reale, and book and lyrics by Willie Reale, based on the popular series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, was a wonderful show. So I was thrilled to find it on the Woodland Opera House schedule. I knew it was on their Family Theater schedule but I assumed it was adults performing for kids, as in the videos I’ve watched.

So it was a surprise to discover that this production, directed by Emily Jo Seminoff, was by talented child actors, some as young as second-graders, but to my delight, it was a charming production with strong actors, singers and dancers.

This delightful family musical is a series of vignettes taken from the Lobel books, which show two good friends living through four seasons and learning the value of friendship.

In the title roles are Bailey Robinson-Burmester as Frog and Jimin Moon as Toad. Continuing the family legacy, Robinson-Burmester gives a wonderful performance. This young man is already a veteran of many productions and his experience shows. He is totally at home on the stage and takes command of his character. He is assisted by a wonderful costume by Denise Miles, a sort of blend of a tailcoat and a sports coat.

Fourteen-year-old Moon, who performed solo at Carnegie Hall last December, is the more laid-back, sometimes petulant Toad, but every bit Robinson-Burmester’s equal as the two friends plant a garden, swim, bake cookies and ride a sleigh down a snow-covered hill (among other activities). The two even do a darn good tap dance for “He’ll Never Know.”

As back-up, there are groups of young actors as birds, lizards, moles, bees/squirrels, snow dancers and trees, some of whom also have solo roles as well. The bees/squirrels are the youngest group of kids and steal the show with cuteness whenever they are on stage.

Alex Romero, in her ninth production at the Woodland Opera House, is Mouse, a small role that she performs well.

Hattie Craven, who recorded her first CD at age 11, makes the most of her role as Snail, the mailman to whom Frog gives a letter to deliver to Toad because Toad is sad that he never gets mail. Craven’s role is a small one, but she brings laughs at every appearance and her song, “I’m Coming Out of My Shell,” is a good message for anyone:

“I thought, ‘I’m just a snail.
A lot of shell. A little goo.
But all of that has changed,
As now the following is true
I got something I do
Something I’m proud of
Because I do it pretty well”

James Hayakawa and Chloe Sears leave the birds’ nest for a scene in which they play Mother and Father Frog, with Alyssa Denman outstanding as Young Frog.

Seminoff, no stranger to children’s theater herself, gets high marks for her direction and choreography, which is exuberant without going overboard and all the kids do her proud.

John Bowles has designed a utilitarian stage with two blocks for the houses of Frog and Toad, which rotate to show different rooms of the house, or to blend into the grassy background, when necessary.
This is a show that gives its audience — and the Opera House was filled with exceptionally well-behaved children of all ages — a great time enjoying good songs, good comedy and plenty of heart.

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