Sunday, May 6, 2018

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

photo by Owen Carey
Best Friends Are Forever

     This delightful musical is based on books by Arnold Lobel, music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale.  It is directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director), musical direction by Jeffery Childs and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins and is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org

     This was a winner of 7 Drammy’s when first presented, well deserved, too.  At it’s heart, it’s about friendship, compassion, and the importance of working together to solve things (a lesson the world should heed now).  But it’s also about giving to another person unconditionally, never expecting anything in return.  And, if you’ve experienced this, isn’t it amazing how good it makes you feel!

     The story is deceptively simple, it follows the pretty routine lives of Frog (Charles Grant) and Toad (James Sharinghousen, reprising his role from the original production) through the four seasons.  Of course, everybody knows that many animals hibernate during the long, cold Winter months, so when they arise, they are full of life and fun.  The squirrels (Lauren Burton & Katie McClanan), in particular, like to keep things moving along in this forest primeval.

     We follow these two intrepid travelers through the seasons, as they rake leaves, go sledding together, bake cookies and in, perhaps, their longest segment, tell scary stories on a stormy night (not recommended if you spook easily).  Frog tells of when he was a child (Sophia Takla) and how he and his parents (Megan Carver & Colin Kane) got lost in the woods and how he overcame the Large and Terrible Frog that haunted the forest.  It is a good lesson in overcoming one’s fears.

     There are other creatures that inhabit this acreage, too, such as birds, moles, a turtle, a lizard, and a snail (Kane, again) in the longest running gag in the show, as he attempts to deliver a letter at at “snail’s pace.”.  The songs are plentiful and very catchy.  And the music/dance/song genres are all over the map, including ballet, soft-shoe, jazz, opera, country, ballads, et. al. and very well executed by an exceptionally, versatile cast!  Also, interesting to note that at curtain call, when only seven actors came out to take their well-deserved kudos, I wondered where the rest of the cast was.  They were so good in playing separate characters that they fooled me into thinking it was a larger ensemble!  Bravo!

     Everyone of them deserves mentioning:  Carver has an operatic voice and it shows to good advantage as Mother Frog; Takla is great as Young Frog, both in acting and singing; Burton & McClanan are terrific as the duo who keep the story moving and are a vaudeville team in themselves; Kane is a delight with his songs of a snail mailman, wanting to “come out of his shell;” and Sharinghousen & Grant are an amazing team, as they dance and sing their ways into your heart!

     Everything works, as the costumes by Sarah Gahagan enhances but doesn’t hide the actors talents; the set by Tal Sanders is very versatile and effective; Childs music is very progressive, as he traverses the various genres; Martins dance numbers are stunning; and Baldwin is a powerhouse as the director for all of this.  She always shines when working with students and directing a play.  If you have her at the helm, it automatically spells success!

     And that brings me to another related point.  It may “take a village to raise a child,” but there is still a chief of that village to maneuver things around.  A play starts with a story from a writer, then is adapted for another medium; then a producing team must raise the finances and market the show; a cast is assembled, which showcases the whole experience to the public; talents are procured to create the atmosphere for the play (and, in the case of a musical--songs, music and dances are conceived for the show; and finally a Director (the “Chief”) must blend all these elements into a cohesive production (in this case, Baldwin).  So, when it comes time for kudos, although behind the scenes, the Director will rise or fall on their contribution and leadership and, if successful, they are “chiefly” responsible for the outcome, and so should be recognized for that!

     I highly recommend this show as it is a gem, as it was a few seasons back.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS