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Wednesday, October 21,2009

Amphibious landing

‘Frog and Toad’ has warts, but still lovable

by Paul Wozniak
Non-preachy plays for kids are hard to come by. The Holt/Dimondale Community Players’ current offering of ‘A Year With Frog & Toad’ fits the bill on paper, but the players struggle at times with the execution. On balance, despite a lengthy running time for kids and a lack of polish in places, “Frog and Toad” is not a half-bad reason to hop into a theater.

Based by on books by Arnold Lobel, with music and lyrics by Robert and Willie Reale, the musical follows best friends Frog and Toad (Dave Sincox and Mark Jacobs) through a calendar year, as the title promises. To start things off, they are awakened from hibernation by a singing bird trio (Eric Chatfield, Gretchen Greiner, and Laura Murthman).


Their adventures over the course of a year tend to be relatively minor — these are swamp creatures and not humans — but they are significant enough to alter the characters’ worldview. The ultimate moral even has a Zen-like quality, professing that change is inevitable and good.


Sincox and Jacobs do not give poor performances, but they could be more interesting for an audience of all ages if they read between the lines to give their characters more than a two-dimensional depth.


The only actor who seems to rise above a running joke is Anthony DeRosa as the snail mail carrier (not a carrier of snail mail, but a literal, mail-carrying snail). DeRosa’s deadpan sincerity gives his character a delusional view of his own speed that gets funnier with each entrance.


DeRosa is aided in the cuteness category by young actors Marina Threadgould and Cora Haddad as duster-tailed squirrels and Johah Reibsome as Mole 2, all of whom burrow into their parts with aplomb.


The rest of the cast fulfills its basic duties as friendly animals that happen by. With the exceptions of the birds and the snail, few give their characters a defined gesture or gait that could help push the animalistic illusion beyond a simple costume.


Composer Robert Reale gave ‘Frog and Toad’ the vaudeville-like feel of 1920s musical arrangements. Eric Chatfield and Laura Murthmum’s choreography perfectly complements this score, with dance steps that recall the jitterbug and other period fads.


Jeannanne Nichols directs a sometimes out-of-tune pit band that sustains the pace, if not always the notes. And Charlie Slocum’s set design works with standard set pieces. The costumes by Nan Slocum cleverly use simple feathers or colors to convey creature qualities.


All these ingredients are fine, but “A Year With Frog and Toad” is ultimately a play whose parts are stronger than the sum.




‘A Year with Frog and Toad’


Holt
and Dimondale Community Players Continues 7 p.m. Oct. 22-24 Matinees 2
p.m. Oct. 17 and 24 Holt Junior High Pernet Auditorium, 1784 Aurelius
Road (517) 694-3411 $5-$10




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