Theater review: BRT’s ‘Frog and Toad’ Lets Sweetness Shine

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Adults often require reminders about the importance of friendship in such gentle, child-geared stories as A Year With Frog and Toad more than youngsters need the lessons. And if it’s entertaining like Boiler Room Theatre’s current production all ages go home happy as well.

Arnold Lobel’s beloved characters get their thoughtful and humorous due from Willie Reale’s book and lyrics as well as Robert Reale’s melodious score. Director Dan McGeachy has assembled a cast that obviously enjoys the simply beautiful elements created by Lobel and the brothers Reale and they present them well.

The musical was first produced in 2002 at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company before a successful Off-Broadway run later that year and a short Broadway stay in 2003 (the most likely culprit –  the higher ticket cost on the Great White Way). It’s been on a national tour and become a selection for several theatrical troupes because of the popularity of Lobel’s books, the quality of the piece and the small cast requirement.

Five actors play all the parts – in this presentation Flynt Foster is Frog and Sondra Morton is Toad while Lisa Gillespie, Josh Lowery and Vicky White play their various animal acquaintances. The storyline is just what the title tells us, as we follow the two best friends’ adventures through four seasons.

Foster has Frog’s even-keel personality down pat. His pleasant singing voice is also an asset whether he’s describing what it’s like to be “Alone” or wishing “Merry Almost Christmas” along with his cast mates. And his interactions with Morton in such pieces as “He’ll Never Know” and “Down the Hill” give us clear portraits of the friendship that makes Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories so strong.

Gillespie, Lowery and White provide a good-natured chorus and several characters to the proceedings. From birds to moles, they contribute good voices, nice movement and funny acting choices to such numbers as “Getta Loada Toad” and “Cookies.” Lowery – who made a very favorable impression earlier this year as the title character in BRT’s Pippin – particularly shines as a spirited Snail in “The Letter” and its reprises.

But with no disrespect intended to the other cast members this production is Morton’s chance to stand out as the ever-uneasy Toad and she certainly does. Her comic timing and expressions are hilarious; her vibrato-rich singing voice is superb. She has the ability good stage comediennes have to be not only believable but also lovable; with all she does as a director, including her work with BRT’s children’s production company YEP!, it’s a real treat to see her onstage again.

Supporting the fun are Corbin Green’s detailed set, David Warfle’s balanced sound, Paul J. Cook’s nicely irreverent choreography and Katie Delaney’s costumes (the lights used for the moles, which are the kind typically used by campers and cave spelunkers, are among Delaney’s nifty touches). And the work of musicians Kyle Hankins, Doug Bright and Rick Malkin is (like the playing provided for previous BRT shows) impeccable.

The show is the start of BRT’s holiday slate; it will be joined beginning Friday with their take on Christopher Durang’s zany Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.  I look forward to seeing that show, but for now I’ll savor the sweetness and bonds-of-friendship affirmations provided by A Year With Frog and Toad.

A Year With Frog and Toad continues through Dec. 22 at Boiler Room Theatre (230 Franklin Rd., Bldg. Six). Shows are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27 and Friday, Dec. 14. Matinees will be performed at 2 p.m. on select Saturdays (Dec. 1, 8, 16 and 22) and Sundays (Dec. 2 and Dec. 15). Tickets (see the website for various prices and discounts) may be purchased by calling BRT at (615) 794-7744 or online at www.boilerroomtheatre.com.

*Photos by Rick Malkin courtesy Rick Malkin Photography and Boiler Room Theatre.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).