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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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In Kids & Family Reviews

Frog (left, played by Joe Picchetti) and Toad (right, played by Matthew Wickey) discuss how difficult it is to stop eating marvelous-tasting cookies. (PHOTO: Royal Bonde-Griggs)

"A Year With Frog and Toad" hops into Helfaer


The charming and unconditional friendship of a cheerful frog and a grumpy toad is the theme of "A Year With Frog and Toad," the kid-focused musical that's based on Arnold Lobel's popular children's stories that were written circa 1970.

Marquette's theater arts program chose "A Year With Frog and Toad" for its annual Theater for Young Audiences play. All of the shows are sold out except the 11 a.m. performance on Saturday., Jan. 22. It will take place inside Marquette University's Evan P. and Marion Helfaer Theatre, 525 N. 13th St., and tickets range from $11 to $20.

Because of its intimate size, The Helfaer Theatre is a kid-friendly space without a bad seat in the house. Plus, after this past Saturday's performance, there was a free ice cream social, which only added to the already-joyful afternoon.

"A Year With Frog and Toad" weaves together a hand full of Lobel's simple-but-provocative stories with musical numbers. The show is organized according to season, opening and closing with winter.

"How has your winter been?" asks Frog.

"I'm hibernating, so there's not much to report," says Toad.

The set is simple and colorful, further adding to an easy-to-absorb experience. The show is just over an hour long and based on the lack of restlessness or loud talking, it seemed to mesmerize the majority of the young audience members.

The costumes are minimalist but effective, especially because the actors are successful at bringing out the true spirit of an optimistic frog and a crotchety frog. Neither Frog nor Toad wear face paint, but Frog, for example, wears bright green pants and Toad dons a mix of browns, a bow tie and two-toned shoes. The squirrel characters are also simply dressed with furry flapped hats and the mail-carrying snail character masters his role solely by the way he walks with a snail-esque scoot.

"I'm the snail with the mail who puts the 'go' in escargot," says the snail.

The musical pieces add splash to the script, but the true magic of the play are the stories themselves. Like the books, the tales range from sweet and low-action to stories laced with important messages. The vignette titled "A Swim" is more folly than anything else. Toad thinks he looks funny in a bathing suit and the other characters agree through song and dance. On the flip side, in "Down The Hill," Frog and Toad face real conflict and the realization that true friends experience true happiness only when their friend is happy, too.

The actors in Marquette's "A Year With Frog and Toad" do a great job bringing to life a relationship between two opposite amphibians who experience the trials and tribulations of sharing life with another.

Throughout the play, the concepts of acceptance of others and self-acceptance are reinforced. The snail declares he's more than just "goo" in a shell and even though it takes him three seasons to deliver a single letter, he is proud of himself for pulling through. When other critters find Toad annoying, Frog believes he is just "underrated" and "misunderstood." Likewise, Toad accepts Frog's absentmindedness, even though he gripes about it.

But the clearest take-away message is spelled out at the end of the show with the sweet line, "Through the years some things change -- that's good -- and some things don't -- that's good, too -- but Frog and Toad will always be the best of friends."


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