True confession. As a child, I had an abundance of literary pleasures. Everything from the inimitable Dr Seuss to Colin Thiele’s criminally underexposed ‘Gloop, The Gloomy Bunyip’, Leila Berg’s troll stories & Jules Verne. I could go on. Unfortunately, however, despite my parents’ commendable efforts to immerse me in memorable books, I was inadvertently deprived of Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ books.
When asked to review children’s theatre, I get a testy touch of the ‘why me?’s. All was forgiven, however, on catching the very last perf of ‘A Year With Frog And Toad’ at Kirribilli’s Ensemble.
It was time to ‘get Reale’, with the Reale brothers’ (the Gershwins would be the grownup equiv) delightful musical adaptation (Robert Reale’s music; Willie’s book and lyrics), lovingly conceived by Lobel’s daughter Adrianne, which has one reeling with innocent glee within moments of the lights going down.
Without having read the stories, I can’t, of course, be a definitive arbiter, but it certainly seems (particularly on this reading, care of director and MD, Anna Crawford, who achieved on-Broadway standards) every charming nuance has been interpolated into the score, which yields a plentitude of laugh-out-loud moments, from the very first.
But one instance: three wittily-costumed (by Mercedes Crawford), storytelling birds, a veritable Greek chorus, open the show with, ‘Flew south for the winter; south for the winter! Every fall we pack our things and go: we know just how to time it, to find the proper climate; one that doesn’t feature any snow’.
Choroegraphy, by Shondelle Pratt, rose to the occasion as consummately, none moreso than the snail with the mail’s escargot-go. Set, too, which included a couple of grand, bolstered chairs which would’ve been completely at home in Hitler’s drawing-room, was suitably storybook, thanks to the sensibilities of Nicholas Dare. Also behind the scenes, Alex Sussman’s piano carried the mood, from, at times heart-rendingly fragile, to fantastical. My only quibble was with the fact that said instrument consistently threatened to drown-out the performers.
Speaking of performers, where did Crawford find this spellbinding ensemble?! Stephen Anderson, Australia’s answer to Dan Aykroyd, was deftly cast as the knowing Frog; with his booming vocals, Sean Hall never fell short of sensational as clueless, but kindhearted Toad; the many and various roles fulfilled by Jon Freeman, Lizzie Mitchell and Crystal Hegedis made resisting an appreciative smile impossible.
A Year With Frog And Toad epitomizes all that is revered in the musical form: a projection of the world as it might, could and, p’r’aps, should, but never can, or will, be; a world built on kindness, consideration, indestructible bonds and goodwill. Just the antidote we need for holding mind, body and soul together, as we tumble through the rumble that is.
A quick glance around the room revealed spellbound young faces, sometimes agape, but most striking were the beams of mothers and sundry adults, clearly transported, through the mists and delusions of nostalgia, deep into the magical nether-world of naivete; that rarefied, virtual headspace close to campfires and oral traditions, but a million miles from the insidiousness of cyberworld, in which you’re now ensconced.
Ensemble Theatre presents
A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD
Based on the Newberry and Caldecott Honor Frog and Toad books of Arnold Lobel
Music by Robert Reale, Book and Lyrics by Willie Reale
Venue: Ensemble Theatre | 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, NSW
Dates: Season from 9 – 25 January, 2008
Times: Wed, Fri & Sat 10am & 2pm
Prices: Full price $35, Concession $28, Children under 12, $15
Special Family Pass for 4 - $80 2 adults/ 2 children or 1 adult / 3 children
Subscriber prices $30 / $23 / $15
Bookings: 02 9929 0644 or www.ensemble.com.au