A series of children’s books forms the basis of the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad,”which opened last weekend at Corn Stock Theatre. Stan Strickler has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.
Not often do people go to the theater and leave feeling as if they have just been given a warm hug, but such was the case at “A Year with Frog and Toad” currently playing at Corn Stock Theater. The show is by turns witty, entertaining, cute, and just about as charming as any show in recent memory. Truth be told, I cannot find enough superlatives to describe this show.
The story line of the show based on children’s books by Arnold Lobel tells the story of two best friends as they go though a year together in what is basically a dream. It begins in the spring as Frog wakes up from hibernation and tries to wake his friend toad so they can have adventures together. It follows them throughout the year as they go swimming in summer, raking leaves in autumn, sledding in winter, and back to spring as they wake from having the same dreams. Although the story line is episodic it is nicely tied together with two running gags concerning Toad’s broken clock and a letter to be delivered by literal snail mail.
Director Nate Downs has assembled a remarkable cast. Since this is at heart a children’s show the lead characters must be able to communicate their emotions broadly and both Joel Shoemaker as Frog and Adam Windish as Toad do so with expressive faces and gestures, wonderful voices and charming delivery of lines. From the opening, Shoemaker invites his friend for adventures and makes it feel as if the audience is included in them. His exasperation in trying to wake Toad sets the stage for the close friendship that develops between the two. Windish is equally good as the sometimes exasperating friend who is nevertheless lovable. Both performers have really nice voices and are quite capable in selling the peppy songs. One feels that these two really are friends both on and off the stage.
The rest of the cast is equally delightful. Beth Ann Evers as snail is funny with her slow and measured walk, and her song about delivering a letter is a true highlight of the show. As the birds Emily Hardesty, Nicole Ferree, and Nyk Suter introduce us to the main characters like a Greek Chorus and they do so charmingly. Also outstanding is Lori Greene as Turtle as she drunkenly tries to catch fish. Even the minor characters are wonderful. Mariah Thornton as Mother Frog has a lovely voice, and the actor as the Large and Terrible Frog is scary, but not so frightening as to scare the children in the audience.
Technically the show is also remarkable. The sets by Austin Gruber show a magical but believable land. Costumes by Leann Liesse struck just the right note. She has created beautiful costumes with hints of the animals the actors portray. Those costumes convey just the right amount of color and whimsy the show deserves. Choreography by Shannon Orrill is cute and portrays the various animals beautifully.
The orchestra lead by Amanda Bach, is onstage and are seen in silhouette at the beginning of the show. They even at one point hand a prop to one of the characters thus joining in the fun. My one complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that sometimes the orchestra is a little too loud and drowns out some of the singers so that the audience doesn’t hear the witty lyrics.
If you think going to a children’s show is not for you, I would suggest that like the best of children’s shows, it has enough humor for adults and well. The audience will relive their own childhood memories and leave the theater with a warm feeling that truly captures the spirit of friendship.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” continues through Saturday at Corn Stock Theatre. More information is available at cornstocktheatre.com