Synchronicity Theatre’s new production of the musical “A Year With Frog and Toad,” based on the children’s stories by Arnold Lobel, is currently playing through Dec. 30 at the 14th Street Playhouse.
It is a charming paean to the transforming power and beauty of true friendship, and it could not be more timely or welcome. Its color and fancy will appeal not only to children but also to young-at-heart adults, who will appreciate its universal themes of love, patience, companionship, and the sheer joy of being alive in a beautiful world. (Isn’t it interesting how quickly “children’s theatre” can become quite profound?)
In scenic designer Rob Hadaway’s delightful sylvan setting we find that Frog (Bryan Mercer) and Toad (Spencer G. Stephens) are hibernating in their separate dens, both dreaming of the joys of friendship, their own cozy lives, and spring, which is “just around the corner,” as they sing to themselves.
As they wake up (which is difficult for Toad because he just broke his alarm clock), they meet and greet and discuss what adventures are on the horizon. Toad confides that he’s a bit sad because he never receives any mail.
But what are best friends for? Frog writes Toad a charming letter and asks his pal Snail (Chris Brent Davis) to deliver it. But they don’t call it “snail mail” for nothing: Snail runs into all kinds of obstacles and delays; meanwhile Frog continually asks Toad, “Have you got any mail today?” To which Snail sadly replies “No. I just never do.” Patience: “All good things to those who wait,” as someone said.
There are some amusing vignettes along the way: Toad thinks he looks funny in a bathing suit; Frog explains that being alone is not the same as being lonely, because he likes to meditate. There are some kites that won’t fly (at first); some risks that need to be taken (like sledding); and some ghost stories which serve to illustrate the futility of most fear.
There is a mouse (Denise Arribas) and a turtle (Janee Ann Smith) to keep the action stirring. All three of these actors (including Mr. Davis) play multiple parts; they also sing well, especially Mr. Davis, who has a fine, flexible voice that should serve him well in the theatre.
The stories and songs are witty and fun without patronizing either children or adults. The sound design (Preston Goodson) is excellent; I think the musical accompaniment is prerecorded, but it works perfectly. You’d be surprised how rare perfect sound is in theatre these days; but that’s another story.
Director Clinton Wade Thornton does a fine job in coordinating all the elements to make everything look smooth and easy—just what good directors do.
The heart of the play, of course, is Frog and Toad themselves; they perform a virtual treatise on the art of friendship, and we clearly see that it is arguably life’s greatest gift. Mr. Mercer and Mr. Stephens are both funny and moving.
Truthfully, “Frog and Toad” is a play more fully enjoyed if you’ve got children with you. But those wonderful life lessons serve as lovely reminders for us all.
For tickets and information, visit synchrotheatre.com.