Review: The dimensions of friendship in 'A Year with Frog and Toad'
You have your frogs, you have your toads. They have their differences.
Frog looks at a pond of cold water and says it's refreshing. Toad looks at the same pond and says it's freezing.
Frog eyes a steep and snowy hill and suggests that a sled ride would be fun, fun, fun. The same hill makes toad think: Risky! Dangerous!
Whatever differences they may have on almost any given subject, Frog and Toad are steadfast about one thing. They are friends. Best friends.
And that's the point of the marvelously wrought "A Year with Frog and Toad," which is making the rounds for the third time at the Arden since the company first produced it 13 years ago. The Arden has presented a few adult shows twice over the years with completely new staging each time. But "A Year with Frog and Toad," part of its busy children's theater series that plays mostly in the mornings, is almost pure revival — there's new lighting by Thom Weaver, but the same scenery (Donald Eastman), same spunky direction by the versatile Whit MacLaughlin, even the same two actors as Frog (Jeffrey Coon) and Toad (Ben Dibble). Coon, Dibble and Steve Pacek (who plays several animal roles, most notably a snail) are known for their shining voices and they're among the busiest actors in town — the Arden doesn't skimp on the quality of theater just because it's for kids.
But I began to wonder whether "A Year with Frog and Toad," a fully rendered musical with two more excellent actors and singers — Leigha Kato and Elexis Morton — plus a four-piece offstage band and charming costumes by Richard St. Clair, is just for kids.
This was my first time for the show and I didn't bring a child with me. Turns out that I didn't need a grade-schooler beside me in order to be enchanted. Moreover, for a show that runs through all four seasons with the animal kingdom singing at you, "A Year with Frog and Toad" feels a lot more genuine than some other musicals.
Friendship is among the hardest subjects to parse, but this musical by Robert and Willie Reale, based on Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" stories, considers friendship warts and all. Frog and Toad worry about each other over big things and small. They argue. They become angry. At times they fail to hear what the other is saying, or to perceive the other's emotion. But something more is at play between the two and whatever it is, it's the crux of real friendship.
You can decide what that is for yourself, and I'm sure plenty of kids in the audience do. I thought about my own friends collectively and individually while I watched Frog and Toad relate. To me, it's not just a kids' show that makes that happen — the musical, incidentally, was on Broadway for a bit.
And for anyone who wants to know the scientific differences between frogs and toads, in addition to the play-written differences described above, visit the Kidzone web site.
"A Year with Frog and Toad" has been extended through Feb. 3 at Arden Theatre, on Second Street north of Market Street. 215-922-1122 or ardentheatre.org.
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