‘A Year with Frog and Toad’

John-Michael Zuerlein and Reed Sigmund in ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ (Photo/Glen Stubbe Photography)


The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis has returned “A Year with Frog and Toad” to the UnitedHealth Group stage, playing through June 16. This award-winning play, nominated three times for a Tony Award, is a playful, innovative musical for young and not-so-young theatergoers. It exemplifies the meaning of “warts and all,” often used to describe the unconditional love and support of someone in spite of their imperfections. “Frog and Toad” is based on the children’s books of Arnold Lobel, writer and illustrator of more than 70 children’s books. The story takes us through four seasons with Frog and Toad, unlikely friends (sort of an Odd Couple). The play opens as the two awaken from hibernation in the spring, Toad wanting to sleep more and Frog trying to roust him. Their friendship is unlikely because of the differences in their characters. Frog is dignified and serious while Toad is a bit of a curmudgeon, a grumpy fussbudget.
The play celebrates friendship and kindness, amplifying the importance of simple pleasures that create the building blocks of a friendship. Frog and Toad make cookies, fly kites, garden, swim, and go sledding in the snow. They also bicker and argue, yet cannot turn their backs on one another. The cast also includes three perky birds, played by Becca Claire Hart, Ryan London Levin and Janely Rodriguez, who enhance the production with spunky, upbeat song-and-dance numbers and also play multiple roles as Squirrel, Turtle, Young Frog and Snail throughout the production.
Reed Sigmund as Toad is the star of the show with his comedic acting, impeccable timing and hilarious expressions. He has been with CTC for over 20 years and has played Toad over 200 times. Kudos to Frog, played seamlessly and elegantly by John-Michael Zuerlein, the understudy who stepped in just days before the opening when the actor originally cast in the part left abruptly.
Levin’s comic performance as “the snail who delivers mail” is a perfect example of how a small part can win the spotlight. Toad complains throughout that no one sends him mail. Frog decides to send him a letter expressing his appreciation of his friend. Of course it isn’t until late in the play that Snail finally reaches the destination and delivers the letter, entertaining us throughout with his slow, deliberate movements and tunes such as “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.” There are 15 additional tunes in the show including “Alone” and “Cookies.”
The innovative scenic design (Adrianne Lobel); costumes in greens and browns with feathers, tails and ears (the late Martin Pakledinaz); choreography (Danny Pelzig), which includes classic, vaudeville-style soft shoe; sound (Rob Milburn); and music (by director Victor Zupanc with Denise Prosek and score by Robert Reale and Willie Reale) come together to create a magical theater experience. As audience members we join Frog and Toad underwater in a swimming pool, on a sled whipping down a snow-covered hill, watching flowers sprout up out of the ground, and enjoying an old-fashioned Christmas Eve in the parlor.
Sigmund says, “I love playing this role and ‘Frog and Toad’ could not be timelier – given the divisiveness in our country.” We can all use a reminder about the basics of acceptance, tolerance and the joy of doing simple things with a friend.
This is Artistic Director Peter C. Brosius’s swan song, the last play he will direct after 27 years with the theater. His vision helped transform CTC into the nation’s leading theater serving a multi-generational audience.
Tickets are available at childrenstheatre.org or 612-874-0400.

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