Monday, May 13, 2013

A Year With Frog & Toad—Oregon Children’s Theatre—Newmark Theatre—downtown Portland

A Froggy Day!

This musical production, from the children’s books by Arnold Lobel, is adapted to the stage by Willie Reale and music by Robert Reale.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Educational Director) and will play through June 2nd at the Newmark Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway.  For further information go to www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571

This is simply, as stated, a year in the life of two friends, Frog (Joshua Stenseth) & Toad (James Sharinghousen).  In their lives, which seems pretty routine, they make cookies together, rake leaves for each other, go swimming, get lost in the woods, tell scary stories, go sledding, have spats, and enjoy Christmas.  Joining them in their escapades’ are squirrels, moles, birds, a turtle and a mouse.  A carefree life, brought exuberantly to the forefront with some super songs, lively dances, colorful costumes, imaginative sets and props, and a very animated cast!

The style of the music and songs harkens back to the 1920’s vaudeville era.  It waxes nostalgic with the black bottom, vamping, soft shoe, ragtime, et. al. from that period.  It is a marvelous choice to relate this tale.  And the songs enhance the story, revealing character traits, feelings, and are part of the storytelling make-up of the production, as well. 

For instance, Toad is a `fraidy cat and lacks confidence.  His friend, Frog, on the other hand, is extremely confident and will brave almost any adventure.  Together, they are like Holmes and Watson, each making up a part of a whole.  And, an important lesson in friendship, they accept each other, unconditionally. 

These two actors are exceptional in bringing the characters to life.  Mr. Sharinghousen (Toad) is a joy to watch.  Last Fall he was director of OCT’s Dracula and was/is in Triangle’s Avenue Q.  And Mr. Stenseth (Frog) is his equal, giving the pitter to his patter.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in these roles.  They are the heart of the show and it beats explosively to life in their capable hands.

And if you think that’s good, “you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.”  The supporting cast equals them at every turn.  Haley Ward (also exceptional in OCT’s Duck For President) shines again in her dual roles as Lady Bird and Mouse.  Rebecca Teran is exciting to watch, especially as Turtle, and adds power to every number she’s in.  Hannah Lauren Wilson and Gracie Jacobson are wonderful as they introduce the acts and become an entertaining show themselves.

But specials kudos must go to Eric Little, especially as Snail, who almost steals the show.  His attempts at speed in his movement are hilarious and his number I’m Coming Out of my Shell is a showstopper.  Also his Letter interludes are special, too.  Other grand numbers are Getta Loada Toad
(Turtle & Mouse) and the dancing of the two leads in Leaves….  But all the numbers work and are delightful to watch.

Special recognition must go to the Choreographer, Sara Mishler Martins, who livens up an already living show with those terrific period dances.  And Musical Director, Jeffery Childs, who understands this era and it’s reflected in the production.  Wonderful, adaptable set by Tal Sanders, especially the umbrellas on the snow snow-scape.  And lovely, colorful and expressive costumes by Sarah Gahagan.

But, the Queen of the Ball, is Dani!  She brilliantly holds it all together, blending expertly the dance, music, tech. and acting into one cohesive whole.  Nothing goes awry in her expert hands.  And, having experience teaching young people, it certainly shows, as she gets the most from this cast.

I highly recommend this show, as it will transport you back to another era in music/dance and expose the best in talent of the Young.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.