Oregon Children’s Theatre knows something about what it takes to put on a hit show: the company has been creating magical theater experiences for kids for 30 years. So, no wonder OCT decided to revive its 2013 hit musical A Year with Frog & Toad this year to close OCT’s 30th season.
In 2013 the show won seven Drammy awards, including for outstanding musical. This year’s production could repeat that feat. After all, James Sharinghousen returns as Toad from that original production; the sets and numbers are reminiscent of that 2013 show; and the additions only add to the magic.
Charles Grant takes over the other title role as Frog— and don’t for a moment think his serious role as Eddie in And in This Corner, Cassius Clay has him typecast. Where he brought emotional weight to the role of Cassius Clay’s best friend in that OCT play from earlier this season, he brings comedy, musical, and dancing talent to the role of Frog. He’s a triple threat, and reveling in it. Grant and Sharinghousen are a perfect pair. I’d be delighted to see them together again: a modern-day Abbot and Costello. They play off each other well, and both excel at physical comedy. The pratfalls are at an all-time high here, especially in the silly sledding number, “Down the Hill.” And the mistaken intentions — secretly raking each other’s leaves only to have the squirrels (Lauren Burton and Katie McClanan) — ruin it so they’ll never know what their friend did.
Grant and Sharinghousen are the stars, but they are far from the only performers in this production. Putting on a musical like this with a cast of seven is no small undertaking, but every actor is up to the task. Colin Kane is especially scene-stealing as the Snail who’s delivering the mail (my kids, who are 5 and 6, can’t stop singing his “The Letter” songs).
Like Arnold Lobel’s “Frog & Toad” books, this script by Willie Reale (who also wrote the lyrics; Robert Reale wrote the music) has no real plot. It’s the story of two friends, Frog and Toad, passing the time. In this case, a year passes. There is a minor ongoing struggle (the Snail is involved, to audience amusement), but for the most part, it’s about the day-to-day goings-on of two good friends and neighbors. And that’s all right by the kids in the audience (and most of the grownups, too).
As you’d expect from a musical that’s spent time on Broadway, the sets and costumes are ever-changing — which this production, directed by Dani Baldwin, never flubs (even when juggling cookies and spinning plates!).
There were a few hiccups on opening weekend. In particular, either the lighting or the staging was off: The spotlights kept ending up off the side of an actor, especially at the beginning of the show. But those entertaining performances, the catchy musical numbers (there are 17!), and the changing sets (and seasons) will keep your little ones entranced not only for the 65-minute run time of the show, but long after.
Oregon Children’s Theatre’s A Year with Frog and Toad continues through May 27 in the Newark Theatre of Portand’5 Centers for the Performing Arts. Ticket and schedule information here.