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'A Year with Frog and Toad' by Robert Reale and Willie Reale

Now onstage at Capitol Theatre, Port Hope

Credit: Tracey Allison L-R: Haneul Yi and Joel Cumber

Dave Rabjohn

“It is the performance of Joel Cumber as frog and Yi as toad that invigorates the stage.”

Apparently, my five- year- old grandson’s social calendar was too full to attend the theatre with Grandpa. However, taking his place, my wife was as enthusiastic about the performance as he would have been.

Embracing the wider audience is the allure of this production of ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ now playing at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ontario. Music by Robert Reale and book by Willie Reale, the play is based on the widely popular children's series of books by Arnold Lobel.

It begins with an elegant set designed by Brian Dudkiewicz. This is not a cartoonish stage with cardboard flowers and primary colours from a Saturday morning kid’s show. The set is beautifully organic – swampy greenery giving the frog and the toad an authentic environment. Placing the musicians behind the heart of the foliage was a clever decision as the music emanates from nature itself.

The cast of five energising performers drives this dynamic tale. The frog and the toad, with mostly an on-again relationship, move through the four seasons and various adventures that challenge and finally galvanize their friendship.

Beginning with spring, three birds, complete with luggage announce their arrival after miles of travel. Waking a grumpy toad (Haneul Yi) is the first hurdle to overcome. Summer brings some embarrassment as he swims in a foppish suit. The fall is marked by a brilliant piece of choreography involving rakes. Winter is met with a tobogganing disaster and some tender Christmas moments.

Two clever motifs run as threads throughout the performance. The first is a letter from frog to toad that is desperately being delivered by the sluggish snail. Played by Ben Page, his arms move furiously, but his legs can’t keep up – try this at home – it is difficult. The letter finally reaches its mark and the theme of friendship and communication is confirmed.

The second thread is the search for a new clock. Time moves on so it is best to build and strengthen those important relationships.

As mentioned, the five versatile actors propel this performance. The three ensembles are not just background colour – singing and choreography are top notch. Some lovely harmonies enrich and a lovely voice from Taylor Lovelace highlights the singing. Yunike Soedarmasto stands out as a dancer. As mentioned, Ben Page’s comic turn as the snail delights the audience.

But it is the performance of Joel Cumber as frog and Yi as toad that invigorates the stage. Their clowning and dancing give a vaudeville feel that suits the highs and lows of their friendship.

Stagecraft highlights include a piece of luggage that roars as the mouth of an evil animal. Scary yellow eyes hovering above the stage delighted (or frightened) the young audience.

Fiona Sauder’s direction included some heartfelt tableaux that highlighted many tender moments. Sim Suzer’s creative costume work was punctuated by the aforementioned snail with housing on his back and a turtle with a similar comic shell.

Silly perhaps, but not trivial – this energetic performance delivers on the message of enduring friendship throughout the seasons.

‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ by Robert Reale and Willie Reale

Performers: Joel Cumber, Taylor Lovelace, Ben Page, Yunike Soedarmasto, Haneul Yi
Director: Fiona Sauder
Music: Jeff Newberry
Set Design: Brian Dudkiewicz
Costume Design: Sim Suzer

Production runs through June 2, 2024.
Tickets: capitoltheatre.com

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