116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After the year we’ve had, it’s such a pleasure to spend “A Year with Frog and Toad,“ even if it lasts only 90 minutes.
Actually, any year would be a pleasure to spend with Arnold Lobel’s storybook characters. They’re hopping from page to stage in this 2003 Tony-nominated Broadway musical, presented by Theatre Cedar Rapids outdoors at Brucemore, serendipitously next to the estate’s Duck Pond.
With the weather looking rather froggy for last Friday’s opening night — which ended up being rained out — I watched Thursday’s final dress rehearsal instead, where thankfully, a few cast kids were in the audience. They are the best barometer for measuring the success of a show geared for young viewers. They’ll either be enthralled, fidgety or worse yet, asleep.
No one fell asleep that night. Even the tiniest tot rushed the stage a couple of times, and she and her sister danced during "I'm Coming Out of My Shell," an especially lively song and dance near the end of the show.
Before it even began, Toad’s tadpole piped up when the cast was running through "Getta Loada Toad," where the recurring theme is, “Toad looks funny in a bathing suit.”
“My dad does NOT look funny in a bathing suit,” the little guy declared. Later on, when Toad was tooting a tuba during the show, Son turned to Mom and asked, “Does Dad know how to play a tuba?”
Such moments are so sweet and innocent, and are the payoff for adults romping through flights of fancy, onstage and off.
What: Theatre Cedar Rapids presents: “A Year with Frog and Toad,” a family friendly musical
Where: Brucemore’s Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, Sept. 8 to 12, 2021; gates open at 5:45 p.m.
Tickets: $23 adults, $13 children; (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/event/a-year-with-frog-and-toad/2021-09-03/
Extras: Bring chairs and blankets, bug spray and snacks or buy concessions on-site
Even though Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” books were published during my teen years, which explains why I never read them, they explore very human actions and reactions as these two best friends experience the fruit and friction of their friendship.
Toad (Aaron Pozdol) is my spirit amphibian. A cautious worrywart, with enough cajoling, the more adventurous Frog (Kehry Anson Lane) can coax him into trying something new. Frog also is a creature equally happy being with others or being alone — a lesson Toad learns after much hand-wringing when Frog sets off for a day of solitude. He’s not mad at Toad, he just wants to reflect on the things that make him happy.
Three other actors keep the action rolling along. Alex Granfield, Beth Nelsen and Anne Gensicke Ohrt play a woodland menagerie of birds, squirrels, moles, a frog family, a turtle and a mouse.
They’re all fantastic at changing characters and costumes on a dime, but a special shoutout goes to Granfield, whose Snail delivering the mail — yes, it’s snail mail — is nothing short of brilliant. Granfield is a bundle of energy singing and dancing through his excitement at being entrusted with this huge honor, then falling to the floor to slow motion crawl his way through snow, rain, heat and gloom of night.
Pozdol and Lane perfectly capture their characters’ motions and emotions, and do a mean soft shoe in the process, channeling the animated Michigan J. Frog with top hats and canes.
The music is light, lively and sophisticated enough to challenge the singers, music director/keyboardist Janelle Lauer and her top-flight trio, yet falling delightfully on ears of all ages. And believe me, you’d better bring some cookies or be prepared to buy some at intermission, because by the end of “Cookies,” you’ll turn into a Cookie Monster.
This is a colorful, clever, action-packed production that keeps all five cast members hopping. Anna Slife’s choreography, Joe Link’s scenic design and Benjamin Stuben Farrar’s lighting are all merry and bright, and Bre Kenney’s costume design finds that sweet spot between creature features and human sartorial sensibilities.
Lisa Kelly’s imaginative, fanciful direction wraps it all up with a big, bright bow. She never lets the show talk down to the kids — everything rises from their level through adult eyes, taking all ages on a ride that had me smiling beginning to end.
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