Warm Your Heart with Frog and Toad

l-r: allen macinnis, louise pitre
photo by daniel alexander

It is almost December, which means that you may be looking for an excursion certain to fill your heart with joy and put you in a cheerful holiday spirit. Perhaps you are looking for the perfect experience to share with the children that you love. Well, look no further and head on down to Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People for their utterly charming production of A Year With Frog and Toad playing until December 30th, 2010.

This musical with music by Robert Reale and lyrics and book by Willie Reale is based on the Frog and Toad children stories written by Arnold Lobel (1970-79). They chronicle the adventures of two dear friends, an even-keeled frog who brings enthusiasm and amiability to all his exploits and a toad, who is more pensive, and sensitive with a penchant for worrying and over thinking things. When Toad is happy, he is exuberant, but sometimes he can be just as distraught. Together they create a nice balance and the musical demonstrates how important empathy is when two people, especially those with strikingly different personalities, attempt to conduct their lives in one another’s company.
The show is quick paced and packed with activities that Frog and Toad embark on together from emerging from hibernation, through baking cookies, going swimming, raking leaves and celebrating Christmas. The songs are well constructed, many of them blithely catchy, with lyrics that are both easily understood, and descriptive of action, but never in a way that talks down to its audience. There are also a few slower songs, lovely sweet ballads that reflect nicely the character of those singing them and the ambiance from whence they were inspired. It has been suggested by some that these softer moments may not be condusive for the show’s intended audience, but I disagree. When the pace of the show slowed, I found myself anticipating that the children in the theatre with me (who were between three and ten years old) would have waning attention, and so I watched them, and sure enough, although they were terrifically quiet, they were also quite squirmy. Yet, then, just out of curiosity, I watched them during the more animated numbers, and realized that, in general, especially the younger of the students, were actually wiggling around in their seats throughout the show and that had no reflection on how captivated they were by the production. I think that it is adults who often assume that children won’t be able to sit through lengthier shows, or a bit more earnest or heartfelt material, and so often we don’t give them the opportunity to experience it, when in fact, they are often much more responsive to such things than we give them credit for.
Robin Fisher has created a gorgeous, homey set with a hint of magic to it, which is utterly enchanting and Allen MacInnis has milked the script for every ounce of excitement, humour and fun and the choreography is delightful in the silliest of ways. Cara Hunter has a bright poppy singing voice in her roles as bird and gossipy turtle, Jennifer Villaverde shines especially in the specificity of her movements, both as Bird and Mole, and Kevin Dennis is hilarious and endearing as Snail, the mail carrier, who “puts the ‘go’ in escargot.”
Yet, it is the dynamic between Allen MacInnis, as Frog and Louise Pitre as Toad which makes this musical so poignant and so entrancing. MacInnis is perhaps a bit subdued as Frog, but he brings a warmth and dignity to the role, as well as a rich singing voice, which makes him an ideal straight man to complement Pitre’s comic prowess. His Frog reminded me of a sweet mixture of Dick Van Dyke and Kermit the Frog, sensible, tranquil and caring, with a hint of mischief about him.
Louise Pitre has created a beautiful character for the worrywart Toad. She continually reduces the children to heaps of giggles, from her unwillingness to get up in the morning, snuggling down under her blanket and moaning with displeasure, to her interpretative seed dance and her bumpy journey down the snowy hill on a sled. Yet, what really got me about Pitre’s performance was how genuine she was able to make Toad. I have met children who mirror her character’s careful exuberance and penchant for solemnity, who are a little shier about themselves than most, with vivid imaginations that sometimes get ahead of them, and thoughtful fears and worries. Pitre does these children wonderful justice with Toad. She is always earnest, putting her entire heart into everything she says and does, whether it is reflecting sadly that she has never received a letter or panicking when Frog is late on Christmas Eve. She is able to make a scene about watering seeds heart rending when she believes that she has made them afraid to grow by accidentally yelling at them. Watch her reacting to Mole and Turtle while they sing “Get a Loada Toad,” a song which makes fun of what he looks like in a bathing suit, it filled the children with so much empathy at the production I saw I overheard one child say to another in a very sharp quiet voice, “that’s not funny!”Clearly Pitre had the entire audience in the palm of her hand.
I left this production feeling absolutely buoyant with an infectious cheeriness that I know was transmitted from MacInnis and Pitre to me and to a whole theatre filled with thrilled little children who watch these sorts of productions the way theatre is intended, with awe and unbridled joy.
A Year With Frog and Toad plays at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (165 Front Street) until December 30th, 2010. To book your tickets or for more information please call 416.862.2222 or visit www.lktyp.ca.   

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