12/19/2020 A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD Synchronicity Theatre Co
GETTA LOADA TOAD (AND FROG)!
It's been eight long years since I visited Synchronicity Theatre for a night with Frog and Toad. Speaking personally, it's been too long, and they've been sorely missed. In 2012 (and 2007), Bryan Mercer and Spencer G. Stevens brought to life the popular characters from Arnold Lobel's series of children's books. With a back-up ensemble playing a menagerie of woodland/swampland critters, this show is a toe-tapping delight for kids and the grown-ups who pretend they’re in control.
Constructed as a series of short-attention-span length episodes (each from a different Lobel story, I presume), the show delivers pretty much what it promises – a year (shortened, of course, by hibernation) in the lives of BFF’s Frog and Toad. For spring. it’s an anxious wait for Toad’s flowers to sprout. For summer, it’s a dip in the local watering hole despite the fact that “Toad looks funny in a bathing suit” (it’s true, BTW). For autumn, it’s a “good friend good deed” raking of leaves spoiled by a pair of mischievous squirrels AND a shivery scary story of the “Big and Terrible Frog.” And for pre-hibernation winter, it’s a breakneck trek down a slippery slope. Oh, did I mention the cookies? Or the Snail Mail letter that takes almost all year to deliver? Or the kite? Goodness, but it’s a full year!
Each scene is built around a musical number, some of which may be a tad forgettable, but most of which stick with you like a swamp reptile. Just try to get Snail’s recurring “Delivering the Letter” out of your head. Or the summertime “Getta Loada Toad.” Or “Cookies.” My own personal favorite is Snail’s “Coming Out of my Shell,” a pure Broadway Power-Ballad that (until now) never failed to knock my own shell off If some of the other songs seem a little less, they certainly make the show a little more.
This year, in addition to its live production, Synchronicity is offering an on-demand video, which is how I watched. Sporting the same set originally designed by Nick Collins and Derek Kinsler, the show has a whole new cast (some of whom were in the 2018 production I missed). Matt Baum and Greg Hunter step into the roles of Frog and Toad and they were fine, with Taryn Carmona, Elliott Folds, and L’Oréal Roaché as the ensemble of critters, and they too were fine. But they did nothing to overshadow the memory of the 2012 and 2007 casts. It may be the transition from live to tape that reduced the energy, or the Covid-friendly face masks worked into the costume plot that tended to muffle voices. And to my disappointment, “Coming Out of my Shell” fell completely flat owing to the video sound remaining at a monotonous volume level, killing the Power-Ballad build that should make it work.
Last night’s Zoom “Watch Party” started off on the wrong foot by filtering the video through a laptop with a narrow bandwidth, sending the sound off-synch and the visuals into a swamp of herky-jerky distraction. Fortunately, the Vimeo recording itself was fine, and a quick restart wiped away my “First Impression” negativity. So, in the final analysis, (most of) the show’s virtues transfer intact to the small screen and, I daresay, (most of) my quibbles may disappear in the live version.
Tightly directed by Jenna Tamisiea Elser (with a huge debt to original director Clinton Thornton), with music direction by Amanda Wansa Morgan and Choreography by Lyndsay Ricketson, the whole production swims along like a frog (or toad) moving downstream. Lights by Elisabeth Cooper and Sound by Preston Goodson pull out all the green-gobo cricket-chirp stops to create a breathable swamp-and-forest-scape that is more cozy home than wet-and-smelly morass.
A Year With Frog and Toad is for anyone who has ever had a friend. Or a child. Or a cookie. This production is sweet and woodsy and friendly and filled with charm (and cookies). It is a definite treat for young and old alike. I really really liked it!
For the video, though, you will need to bring your cookies.
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #SynchronicityTheatre #FrogAndToad