Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede in A Year With Frog and Toad
(Photo: Rob Levine)
Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede in A Year With Frog and Toad
(Photo: Rob Levine)
The creators of A Year With Frog and Toad have figured out the way to make a children's musical work on Broadway: Don't pretend that it's not a children's musical. There's no elaborate scenery, no complicated score, and no celebrity headliner in this production, though television devotees probably remember Mark Linn-Baker from Perfect Strangers. This is simply a fun evening, sure to entertain children and adults alike.

Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books have been children's favorites for over three decades. The familiar stories easily transfer to the stage with Linn-Baker as the fidgety Toad and Jay Goede as his more relaxed friend, Frog. Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz wisely chooses not to dress the pair in animal costumes; instead they wear green and brown suits much like the ones their characters wear in the books. The costumes for the rest of the cast hint at the various animals being portrayed without being too literal; for example, a turtle and a snail each sport a shell, while three birds wear hats with feathers.

The musical weaves together many short stories, such as the one about Toad planting seeds and waiting all night for his flowers to grow, and the one in which Frog tells Toad a scary story about a childhood adventure. In an early episode, Toad admits to Frog that he has never received any mail; Frog, feeling sorry for his friend, writes him a letter and enlists Snail (Frank Vlastnik) to deliver it. Snail is ecstatic about his new job, but he moves so slowly that his journey ties the whole show together. Vlastnik nearly steals the show each time he pops up between episodes to proclaim in song, "I'm the snail with the mail!"

A Year With Frog and Toad features music by Robert Reale, with book and lyrics by Willie Reale. When Frog and Toad go swimming, Frog tells Turtle (Danielle Ferland) that Toad does not want anyone to see him out of the water because he looks funny in a bathing suit. In the song "Getta Loada Toad," Turtle shares that bit of information with Mouse (Jennifer Gambatese) and Lizard (Vlastnik), and the three anxiously wait for Toad to leave the water. Playfully choreographed by Daniel Pelzig, the number is simple enough for a children's show but sufficiently catchy to please the parents in the audience, too. Another amusing song is "Cookies," in which Frog and Toad cannot stop eating Toad's freshly baked cookies. Here, the chaotic music and repetitive lyrics fit the fast-paced frenzy of what turns out to be the messiest number in the show.

Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede inA Year With Frog and Toad
(Photo: Rob Levine)
Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede in
A Year With Frog and Toad
(Photo: Rob Levine)
Ferland, Gambatese, and Vlastnik function very well as an ensemble, each portraying several animals that Frog and Toad encounter. Gambatese is particularly funny as a young Frog in his flashback, while Ferland gets to show off as Turtle in the swimming scene. In the leading roles, Linn-Baker and Goede are entirely believable as the best friends who are so well known from the Lobel books. The two balance each other perfectly and make the show as much fun for the audience to attend as it is for them to perform. In one episode, Frog and Toad separately decide to surprise each other by raking leaves; as they sing "He'll Never Know," they happily (then tiredly) rake away and even break into an impromptu dance. Although two squirrels (Ferland and Gambatese) will inevitably pounce on the leaves before either can see his friend's hard work, the scene shows that what Frog and Toad really want is for each other to be happy.

That kind of friendship is key to Arnold Lobel's work, and it's only fitting that his daughter, Adrianne Lobel (also the wife of Linn-Baker), has taken part in the creation of this musical version of her father's stories by designing the scenery. Each set piece appears to have popped right out of a storybook. In a cute twist, the headboards on the friends' beds and the backs of their chairs roll into a design reminiscent of a frog's head with two ears.

Director David Patrarca has succeeded in making A Year With Frog and Toad exactly what the kids in the audience must have hoped it would be. With catchy songs, an energetic cast, and bright design elements, the musical has all the charm of the books on which it's based. Just as Lobel's stories have been happily shared by parents and their children, A Year With Frog and Toad is the type of musical that will appeal to theatergoers of all ages.