SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake Acting Company’s A Year with Frog and Toad is exactly what children’s theater should be. Every scene was engaging and suited to its audience, with an energy and humor that appealed to children and adults alike. In their music and lyrics, brothers Robert and Willie Reale captured the magic of Arnold Lobel’s books with memorable songs and charming lyrics that often quote directly from the books.
A menagerie of animals was represented by just five actors who bounded through the four seasons in just over an hour. The actors’ energy was almost palpable as they took on the mannerisms of each creature. As Frog, Logan Tarantino walked in a bouncing step with his feet splayed wide so each step so each step looked like a hop. Nate Waite portrayed Toad with timid, outward bending steps reminiscent of a toad’s long-legged, awkward movements.
In addition to being talented vocalists, each actor brought a marvelous stage presence and aptitude for comedy. One of my favorite moments came during the play’s opening scene when—playing birds—Jenessa Bowen, Amelia Rose Moore, and Terry Lee McGriff jutted their heads about in a bird-like manner and interspersed their dialogue with the phrase, “Chirp, Chirpitty, Chirp.” Another memorable performance was Terry Lee McGriff’s representation of the character Snail, who enthusiastically lifted his legs and pumped his arms as though he were sprinting, but then made only sluggish progress across the stage.
The costumes were whimsically simple, yet distinct enough to clearly distinguish each animal from the others. Frog and Toad wore simple green pants and shirts, striped for Frog and large green polka dots reminiscent of warts for Toad. Janessa Bowen, Amelia Rose Moore, and Terry Lee McGriff wore beige pants and shirts, over which they could layer myriad costumes, ranging from simple to ornate, to represent a variety of birds and frogs as well as a lizard, mouse, snail, and turtle (K. L. Alberts).
The sound design was flawless: the recorded musical accompaniment and vocals blended in terms of volumes, and all of the lyrics were easy to understand (sound by Shea Madson, musical direction by Darrin Doman). Lighting was used effectively to simulate changes in weather and time of day (lighting design by Jesse Portillo).
The set and props were all brightly colored and often oversized (e.g., massive cookies and clocks) so that they were easy to recognize (set & prop design by Keven Myhre). Each side of the stage had a small bedroom wall, bed, and table, representing the homes of Frog and Toad. A boardwalk separated the two, and no boundary separated the indoors from the outdoors. I was impressed by the way Penelope Caywood’s direction used the stage. Characters moved fluidly between indoors and outdoors, but I was never confused about where any scenes were set: context made the setting apparent any time it mattered.
The efforts of the cast and crew combined to portray the same delightful charm as the Frog and Toad books. Salt Lake Acting Company’s A Year with Frog and Toad was the best piece of theater presented for children that I’ve seen in a long time, and I only wish I had more nieces and nephews so I could have an excuse to see it again.