It’s hard to describe the pleasant mixture of nostalgia and pride involved in watching a childhood favorite book series, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, come to life in Imagination Stage’s production of A Year of Frog and Toad while also watching your own offspring’s delight and wonder at this absolute gem. Ashleigh King masterfully directed and choreographed this musical, which showcases Imagination Stage at its best: children’s theater that is the opposite of “dumbed down.” It’s elegant and dignified while still being full of laughs and spark that keep kids engaged and entranced. The peals of laughter emanating from the audience serve as the perfect proof of the show’s success.
The entire show is as cozy as the vintage knit blanket that makes an appearance toward the end of the 65-minute production. A Year with Frog and Toad feels cohesive and aesthetically pleasing thanks in part to expert scenic design by Sarah Beth Hall and costume design by Debra Kim Sivigny. The beautiful muted colors (think shades of rust, sage, warm yellow, sky blue) contribute to the tone of the show, in perfect harmony with Sivigny’s mostly simple yet unique and effective costumes.
Willie Reale (book and lyrics) and Robert Reale (music) have concocted songs that feel like a tribute to the golden age of musical theater: a little ragtime here, a little jazz there. Under the guidance of music director Deborah Jacobson, the songs are evocative of shows like Kiss Me Kate and even Annie Get Your Gun or Oklahoma!; the character Snail, played by Karen Vincent, sings a song called “A Letter” that feels a little twangy, in a good way. Vincent’s vocals really stood out in this performance.
The two stars of the show, of course, are Frog, played by the charismatic and energetic Deimoni Brewington, and Toad, played by Evan Casey, who nailed the anxious, dour, but still lovable amphibian. In songs like “A Year with Frog and Toad,” “Spring,” and “Happy on a Rock,” they are the two perfect gentlemen—er, gentlefrogs, with their manners and dapper spats on display, and their strong bond of friendship always front and center.
A standout number was “Marvelous Cookies” where, just as it should be in musical theater, the characters suddenly burst into song about the struggle to maintain willpower around fresh-baked cookies. It was a relatable, humorous, and delightful scene to watch.
In “He’ll Never Know,” Brewington and Casey sing in beautiful harmony, and engage in some pseudo tap-dancing; my one wish is that there had been actual taps on their shoes! A Year with Frog and Toad’s pacing is also well done. Though Frog and Toad are naturally the focus and are on stage much of the time, the production is interlaced with interludes from the three Birds (played in the performance I saw by an ebullient Sydney Dionne, Stephen Russel Murray, and Karen Vincent) and the aforementioned Snail, who pops up in various locations in the audience itself, an element that is always a crowd-pleaser for young theatergoers.
If you are looking for an entertaining way to spend some time with your 5- to 8-year-old child (and your own inner one) this season, get thee to Imagination Stage. Your kids may even learn some new vocabulary: I heard the words brisk, peckish, leisurely, peril, and magnanimous bandied about, just to name a few. I personally would love to go back and spend another year with A Year with Frog and Toad!
Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission.
A Year with Frog and Toad plays through January 7, 2024, at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, MD. Shows for the general public are on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 1:00. Tickets ($12 and up) may be purchased online, in person at Imagination Stage’s box office, or by phone at 301-280-1660. Group rates are available for parties of 10+.
The program for A Year with Frog and Toad is online here.
Best for ages 4+
COVID Safety: Masks are optional.
A Year with Frog and Toad
Based on the books by Arnold Lobel
Book and lyrics by Willie Reale
Music by Robert Reale
Directed by Ashleigh King
Lighting Design by Alberto Segarras; Sound Design by Justin Schmitz; Props Design by Andrea “Dre” Moore; Stage Management by Samantha Leahan.