By Kenneth Jones
06 Apr 2004
A Year With Frog and Toad, as the title suggests, follows a year in the lives of two amphibious pals in the woods. Cookies, bathing, the seasons, Christmas and friendship are all celebrated via the music of Robert Reale and the book and lyrics of brother Willie Reale.
The show was developed by producer-designer Adrianne Lobel, whose scenic designs are seen in opera houses and theatres around the country. A Year With Frog and Toad was first staged in summer 2002 in Minneapolis at The Children's Theatre Company, which was a 2003 Tony recipient for Regional Theatre. The show surfaced at the New Victory on 42nd Street in late 2002 before moving to the Cort Theatre in 2003.
The Tony Award-nominated new musical closed June 15, 2003, at the Cort after 15 previews and 73 performances, but producer designer Adrianne Lobel previously told Playbill On-Line there is hope for future productions.
Indeed, Jeffrey Finn Productions is sending out a national tour in 2004-05. The full itinerary has not yet been announced, though Boston dates have surfaced and the show will be seen over the holidays at its birthplace: The Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis. No casting has been announced.
There has also been talk to a TV staging of the show.
The set was designed by Lobel after her writer-illustrator father's ideas. Arnold Lobel penned and illustrated the popular Frog and Toad series of books.
"There are some theatres that would like to have it come back every year, like A Christmas Carol," Lobel said. Given the small cast of five, the show should have a lush regional life once its script and score are licensed.
Of the Broadway run, Lobel conceded, "We did very consistent business, but it wasn't enough. We had the cutest audience in town, there's no doubt about that."
Actress Kate Reinders, now in the Broadway revival of Gypsy, is featured on the album and performed in Minneapolis. On Broadway, Jennifer Gambatese played the role Reinders originated. The disc is an "original cast album" not a "Broadway cast album."
Songs in the score include "A Year With Frog and Toad," "It's Spring," "Seeds," "The Letter," "Getta Loada Toad," "Alone," "Cookies," "The Kite," "He'll Never Know," "Shivers," "Down the Hill," "I'm Coming Out of My Shell," "Toad to the Rescue" and "Merry Almost Christmas."
The show earned 2003 Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. Jay Goede played Frog and Mark Linn-Baker (Lobel's husband) was Toad. The cast included Danielle Ferland, Jennifer Gambatese and Frank Vlastnik (who was an audience favorite as "the snail with the mail," whose delivery was — naturally — slow). Linda Twine conducted, and Irwin Fisch handled the orchestrations.
David Petrarca directed and Daniel Pelzig choreographed.
Philip Chaffin, co-founder of PS Classics, told Playbill On Line, "The fit with PS Classics felt really good. The way the score, like the books, takes off from the past, with the innocence and charm of an earlier era, but then adds its own brand of wit and sophistication — that blend of old and new is one of the things we keep trying to do here. We're very pleased to be able to give the CD the wide exposure it deserves."
For more information, visit www.psclassics.com.
The show was groundbreaking in that it brought professional children's theatre to the Broadway arena, sparking the interest of the age 3-to-10 set. Kids beamed with delight — and so did their parents — as they saw Arnold Lobel's kid lit classics, about forest creatures and their daily (human-like) lives, come to life.
"People keep saying we are pioneers and we will see this will have an effect in the future," Lobel said of planting the theatre seed in kids. "I hope [producers] make room for that audience. If we don't do theatre for that age group, there won't be theatre in the next 20 years or 30 years. The disappointment is that it doesn't seem like a lot of people are bringing their children to the theatre."
What would Lobel's father, the creator of Frog and Toad, have thought of A Year With Frog and Toad on Broadway?
"He loved theatre, he was gaga about theatre — he would have been tickled green," she said, adding he would have loved the fact that his son-in-law was Toad.
Frog and Toad was produced by Bob Boyett, Lobel, Michael Gardner, Lawrence Horowitz and Roy Furman and Scott E. Nederlander.