Theatre review: A Year With Frog and Toad – this production hits a bullseye

Forget the Meisner technique or the Stanislavski system, sometimes acting is just about play.  And no better example of this can be found than from the cast of Carousel Theatre’s A Year With Frog and Toad.

Based on Arnold Lobel’s much-loved children’s books, this musical features the title characters as a sort of Bert and Ernie of the marsh who, while opposites in many ways, have a friendship that is enduring.

Awakening from their hibernation each spring, the duo sets out to enjoy their few months together along with a few other of the marsh inhabitants.  As the seasons pass and before they are forced back into hibernation, the duo plant a garden, go swimming and even manage their own Mr Toad’s wild ride aboard a toboggan.  And were you to think perhaps Cookie Monster has said everything there was to say about cookies, just wait until you see what happens when Toad bakes up a batch of his own.

With its simple theme of friendship, it is up to the actors on stage to command the children’s attention and those assembled here by director Carole Higgins do so with ease.  Todd Talbot is simply dazzling with Frog’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and his boundless energy is infectious.  Josue Laboucane gives his Toad just enough good-natured grumpiness and his interpretive dance, as he tries to encourage his flowers to grow, was inspired.

As the other woodland creatures of the marsh Kayla Dunbar, Janet Gigliotti and Rebecca Talbot all bring a wonderful energy and mannerisms to their various roles as birds, moles and squirrels.  But it is Darren Burkett as the snail entrusted with Frog’s letter that is the stand out, giving such a delightful physicality to the role that each of his appearances was met with anticipation and much laughter.

Todd Talbot and Darren Burkett in the Carousel Theatre production of A Year With Frog and Toad. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Todd Talbot and Darren Burkett in Carousel Theatre’s A Year With Frog and Toad. Photo by Tim Matheson.

While the youngest of those in attendance will no doubt get a kick out of the antics, like the water strider that lives among the other residents of the marsh, the lessons only ever skim the surface. As an example, Toad’s embarassment in being seen outside the pond in his bathing suit is ripe for a more indepth lesson on body image, but that attempt ultimately drowns among all the funny business.  Perhaps a more indepth discussion happens with the children in Carousel Theatre’s school program performances but in these public performances there is nothing to help the parents; maybe some discussion topics for parents in the show’s program would help solidify some of the lessons after the families leave the theatre.

Heidi Wilkinson’s set is as lively and colourful as the characters that inhabit it and Yulia Shtern’s costumes give each of the characters a perfect representation of their character and personality.

With a cast willing to play, coupled the enthusiastic reaction from its target 4 to 8 year-old demographic opening night, this production has definitely hit a bullseye.

Forget Sesame Street, head on down with your kids to the marsh.

4 Out of 5 Stars A Year With Frog and Toad

Book and lyrics by Willie Reale.  Music by Robert Reale.  Based on the books by Arnold Lbel.  A Carousel Theatre for Young People production.  On stage at the Waterfront Theatre through April 8, 2012.  Visit http://www.carouseltheatre.com for tickets and information.

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