On the theater season’s unofficial opening night last Friday, two friends convened to celebrate another year together.
Frog and Toad were happier than ever. And so was their company, a room of eager young eyes and giggly open mouths. (And a few furry friends.) It was a chance to mark the year and a kickoff to the next.
Theatre of Youth’s “A Year with Frog and Toad” is exactly that warm sentiment. That it echoed the sentiment of the evening’s Curtain Up festivities didn’t hurt the mood, either. The children got their reminder, and so did the adults.
Michael Walline returns to direct this favorite musical, last seen on TOY’s stage eight seasons ago. This time, Walline also choreographs. Previous star Bobby Cooke reprises his role as Toad, and he is joined by Jacob Albarella’s Frog, and Kelly Copps, Arin Lee Dandes and Michael Zito as a slew of animal friends.
The show is an adorable take on the Arnold Lobel children’s book, a classic among generations. It poses wonderful questions about the time we spend and the time we waste. If there’s one construct that would seem elusive to little ones, it’s this, and it plants the seeds for future discoveries of value, priority, friendship and commitment.
When we meet these two, they’re getting ready for spring. Toad is a worrier, unable to keep his alarm clock intact or his latent loneliness at bay – he’s never gotten any mail, and he feels just awful about that. It’s understandable; a handwritten letter is worth gold today, a gift that’s never gone out of fashion. Frog, on the other hand, is more resolute. His garden is active and maintained, his bed is made and blankets folded, and his attention to detail pays him back in dividends.
Put these opposing, yet loving, personalities together, and you get a year of trials and lessons – “experiences,” as some diplomatic parents might call them.
Cooke is suitably adorable as the worrisome Toad. He never quite whines, but he expresses disappointment in his own mild sloppiness. Cooke does this kindly, so as to not be intolerable. It would seem he could use another day off to get his things in order, starting with a repaired alarm clock.
He loves his friendship with Frog, whom Albarella fits like a glove. Frog might remind parents of obsessive Niles Crane from television’s “Frasier,” with his quiet, near-obsessive routine and frankness. But Albarella is mild-mannered, soft and never close to a narcissist. Each role needs these lines drawn, or else their friendship would seem co-dependent and ill advised. In these actors’ hands, they are loving, capable and kind, if sometimes incongruous, and even more rarely at odds.
As their supportive network of friends, Copps, Dandes and Zito bring much charm and splash to the lily pad. Together, they bookend the show as lavish, character-drawn Birds, flying south for the winter and returning by show’s end. Dandes is especially personable as Mouse, dressed (by costumer Barbara Priore) as a sleek Parisian, much in the same way her and Copps’ Moles don full-length fur coats. These are some stylish rodents.
But Zito’s adorable Snail, with the mail, makes the biggest impression. When concerned Frog decides to send Toad a letter, filling his heart and mailbox with something unexpected, Snail naturally takes forever – a whole year – to deliver the goods.
When Zito appears, charting his glacial progress across the pond, his flimsy running-in-place moves elicit big, deserved laughs. What hilarity can ensue from two fast-moving forearms.
Walline put tailored touches all over this production. His choreography is traditionally Wallinian, matching the music’s vaudevillian panache with follies-like flair. But closer to the heart: A reminder that in every year, we have ups and downs, routines and tasks, givings and misgivings, and the chance to commemorate our time together and reaffirm the things that matter most.
What: “A Year With Frog and Toad”
Presented by: Theatre of Youth
Where: Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St.
Through: Oct. 13
Info: 884-4400 or www.theatreofyouth.org