Based upon the illustrated “Frog and Toad” children’s stories written by Arnold Lobel, “A Year of Frog and Toad,” Robert and Willie Reale’s Tony-winning musical adaptation is coming to the UCA stage this weekend. Although it is kid-friendly, it is not kid-exclusive.
According to Walt Jones, the director, this is his first time working on a family show. Jones, the assistant chair of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance, is a 1975 Yale graduate who has directed twice on Broadway and written for “Sesame Street” and “The Muppets.”
“I’ve read the ‘Frog and Toad’ books with my daughters,” Jones said. “Lobel was an incredible writer who wrote human situations with animals. I actually went to school with his daughter, and directed one of the musical adaptation’s writers as a child actor.”
Jones said freshmen and seniors alike are involved in this project, including non-majors, with a total of approximately 200 students on his team, including 13 on stage. The set was particularly challenging in bringing the frog, toad and mice characters to scale, according to Jones.
Rising to meet that challenge was Roger Hanna, the set designer and CSU assistant professor. Hanna said, as per his student assistant set designer’s input, the curtains are made of baby blankets, and they are to be cut up by volunteers after the show and donated to charities.
“This really is a creative team and a collaborative process,” Hanna said. “The director is open to input from anyone in any department in a playful, safe environment, where everyone has a voice. I love working on shows that invoke, rather than show an environment.”
According to Hanna, the play harkens back to Vaudeville as well as 1940s and 1950s television shows, with something for everybody. This includes a special front row for children with animal stickers on the chairs that has been installed so they can see the stage better.
According to Kyle Phibbs, a theatre sophomore who plays the role of Frog, this show is his first at CSU, and he compares the relationship between Frog and Toad to that of Abbott and Costello, “The Odd Couple” or Bert and Ernie.
“Hopefully, audiences will leave smiling and maybe humming a song from the show,” Phibbs said. “There is not much conflict in the show, and everything is resolved in the end. I just hope they take a little bit of our happiness and friendship with them.”
According to Janelle Sutton, the set’s costume designer, an adjunct professor and CSU alumna, this interpretation of “A Year with Frog and Toad” is her second time designing for the show, her first being in 2006 at the Sioux Falls Children’s Theatre.
“I am inspired by fashion, art, nature, relationships, film and theatre,” Sutton said. “My favorite era is the 1910s to the 1940s for fashion. I relied on my previous knowledge and research for this particular show and integrated this into a vaudeville theme.”
According to Laurel Wiley, the production stage manager and a theatre junior, her job is to help artists take care of little details they overlook (like scheduling), the scale of the play, the bigger design and the bigger cost, which made for a valuable learning experience.
“For people who have read the books, this is a cute, new look at the classic stories,” Wiley said. “It has a jazzy, upbeat score, and it puts a new spin on things. It’s full of touching moments.”
Beginning tonight, the show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $8 for CSU students. It runs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 14. Thursday night tickets are free for students who enter their ID numbers online along with the password “Thursday.”
It is funny how animals sometimes make us understand ourselves better, or how tales geared toward children can transcend age. If you need something to lighten up the end-of-the-semester push, “A Year with Frog and Toad” is the place to go.
Collegian A&E Writer Hunter Goddard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hunter_gaga.