Willie Reale Takes a Big Leap for Kids
by Rosa del Duca
We arrive at Frog and Toad’s front doors in the Spring. Three birds dressed like French airline stewardesses spill the news that they are back from their winter vacation down south. They invite us to look in on Frog and Toad’s dreams.
Frog and Toad are dreaming about each other, and the most charming of duets unfolds—an ode to their friendship. Frog (warm, expressive Sean Miller-Jones) and Toad (endearing, smile-inducing Randy Lee) are talented singers, and their voices blend effortlessly. Before the show, my toddlers were trying to escape their seats; but as soon as the show starts, they are captivated.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” is a musical that takes us through the seasons with fun, whimsy and expertly-crafted jazzy songs inspired by the big band era. Like all BACT shows, Willie Reale’s show offers layers of complexity to keep all of us engaged.
In the spring, Toad decides he will plant a flower garden. Frog just so happens to have some seeds. Toad gleefully plants the seeds and waits a few seconds for them to grow. When nothing happens, he shouts at the seeds, wrings his hands, threatens, and despairs. Then, feeling awful about his behavior, he pleads with his seeds, performs interpretive dance for them, and plays the tuba. My daughter Itasca, 4, turned to me several times during these antics, half groaning, half laughing, a grin fixed on her face.
When Frog and Toad go swimming in the summer, Toad thinks he looks funny in a bathing suit. Word spreads fast in the forest and soon there is a crowd to see Toad. In the fall, Frog and Toad both wake up to a mess of fallen leaves in their yards. They each decide to rake the leaves in their friend’s yard. The simple vignettes draw in the kids and the honest delivery draws in parents, too.
I grew up with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books and now I read them to my kids. In the books, Toad comes off as grumpy, cold and a little selfish. But in BACT’s show, Toad is wonderfully complex. He is unpredictable, comically high-strung, and yet deeply caring. Frog, on the other hand, is a rock. He is good natured and patient to a fault.
When a sledding trip ends in disaster, Toad blows up and declares their friendship over. Frog sadly goes home without a word. Luckily, an exhausted Snail (hilarious beanpole Amber Dickerson) arrives with a heartfelt letter from Frog—mailed months before.
I’m one of those people who rolls my eyes if I see red and green before Thanksgiving, but this play has me cuddling my kids, dreaming about the whole family drinking hot cocoa and trimming the tree. Holiday spirit abounds. Just watch out for the “eating cookies” anthem right before intermission. There are enormous chocolate chip cookies for sale, like the ones in the play. Sweet cookies. Sweet show!
“A Year with Frog and Toad” —book & lyrics by Willie Reale, directed by Khalia Davis, based on Frog & Toad by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT), Berkeley, through Monday, December 23, 2019. Info: bactheatre.org
Cast: Randy Lee, Sean Miller-Jones, Amber Dickerson, Amanda Le Nguyen, and Chelsea Wellott.