REVIEW BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
I asked different friends to come with me to see the Arden Children’s Theatre production, this Christmas season. In each case, I was told, “No thank you, not interested in children’s theater. It was their loss. “A Year With Frog and Toad” is a beautiful, uplifting piece of theater, with the spirit of that fine PBS television program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
The clever play by Willie Reale is fortunate to see the return of Jeff Coon and Ben Dibble as Frog and Toad, who played the roles in Arden’s 2004 and 2009 productions. They have a wonderful chemistry, as we visit their pond over the course of one year and experience their delightful adventures as well as their special friendship.
The show opens with the birds (Leigha Kato, Elexis Morton, and Steve Pacek) returning to the north in the spring and with the awakening from four months of hibernation of Frog and Toad. It’s funny, it’s smart, and yet it’s simple as we watch the two men who are very human in their feelings, deal with every day life, from swimming, to raking leaves, to sharing a meal. It’s also full of physical comedy from basketball to sledding to flying a kite. There is a slightly scary story that we can watch and enjoy, without being afraid.
One more thing. It’s musical. Frog and Toad sing. The music belongs to Reale’s brother, Robert Reale. The titles almost say it all. “Seeds,” “The Letter,” “Getta Load of Toad,” “Alone,” and “Toad to the Rescue.” Simple songs, beautifully rendered by Coon and Dibble and they are not alone. Kato, Morton, and Pacek take on the roles of other pond critters and join in many of them.
We care about these two amphibians, even though they are not dressed as a frog or toad. Each projects a childlike persona. The kids in the audience loved them as did the parents and grandparents. We all know that Coon and Dibble are actors — but they are funny actors. The kids laughed, and so did I.