Amphibious success

A Year with Frog and Toad

Woodland critters join Toad in a cookie-baking hootenanny.

Woodland critters join Toad in a cookie-baking hootenanny.

Rated 5.0

Sometimes you don’t need to be a kid, or even be accompanied by a kid, to thoroughly enjoy a show that’s primarily intended for children. The current offering at the Children’s Theatre of California—a small musical titled A Year with Frog and Toad—is one of those happy occasions.

It’s a show that defies some of the usual rules. Most of the Children’s Theatre’s better productions have involved a story that includes a character’s moral choice that leads to growth, and those stories are usually presented in a plot that has a beginning, a middle and an end. But Frog and Toad is almost entirely episodic, with good-natured, funny little scenes that represent winter, spring, summer and fall.

There are, of course, a few lessons about the value of friendship and examples of both good and bad behavior. For instance, there’s a silly scene in which Frog and Toad bake cookies and then pig out on them. But these scenes are largely self-contained, and the story doesn’t lead up to a watershed event.

The music also is unusual. Much of it is in an early Broadway, vaudeville-influenced style. It’s a little more urbane than you typically find in a children’s show. Let it be noted that the New York production of Frog and Toad picked up a Tony nomination for best score—not best score for a children’s show, but best score. The play also received a Tony nomination for best book. It’s good material all the way through.

In this production, the material is linked with a very likeable, capable cast. Frog is played by Rick Kleber, and Toad by Peter Story—two actors singled out by SN&R in the Best of Sacramento 2004 issue for “Best theatrical performances by big men.” They’re both good comic actors who know how to move their ample bodies around. Kleber has a smooth, deep singing voice and brings an unflappable quality to Frog. Toad, on the other hand, is always knotted up about something, and Story gives the character a nice assortment of nervous mannerisms. The sparkling recorded music by Noah Agruss gives both a good platform.

Rounding out the cast is Jeff Asch, who has a long-running gag as “the snail with the mail” who needs a very long time to deliver a letter. Anna Ambrose and Kathryn Morison play an assortment of birds and other critters. Director Greg Alexander ties in good costumes by Libby Harmor and giddy choreography by Jackie Schultz.

Parents looking for a good family outing during school vacation in the next two weeks will find this show fills the need quite nicely. But really, anyone with an appreciation for a smooth little musical is likely to have a fine time with Frog and Toad.