Playhouse Stage’s “A Year with Frog & Toad” Could Not Be More Charming
Playhouse Stage opens its 34th season with “A Year with Frog & Toad” for a brief run at the Cohoes Music Hall. Act fast because this show could not be more charming or in its innocent, guileless way more appropriate to mark the occasion of the year gone by and look forward with a steady, optimistic determination.
Five alumni of Playhouse Stage’s Education Department take the stage and deliver thoroughly winning, compulsively watchable performances in this 2002 musical adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s children’s book series by the brothers Willie (book & lyrics) & Robert Reale (music). The music is jaunty, perky with strains of ragtime, country & western and vaudeville all perfectly handled by Music Director Brian Axford. Ashley-Simone Kirchner handles the light choreographic duties with aplomb but is especially impressive fulfilling the duties of director for the evening keeping a light touch and moving this fleet hour and a half musical along.
The musical opens with the birds (Luca Verner, Jack Mastrianni & Emma Alteri) celebrating their return to the pond in the Spring and waking Frog & Toad from their hibernation. These three will play all manner of woodland creatures through the evening-moles, lizards, turtles, squirrels, mice, and in a recurring bit, Jack plays a snail that threatens to run off with the show. He is delivering a letter Frog wrote to Toad which take the entire show to reach its destination. Mr. Mastrianni gains repeated applause on his exits after he pledges “He puts the go in escargot.”
Jake Lehning plays Toad, the ornerier of the two, and he has a grand time harrumphing and grousing through his part. His ecstatic release baking “Cookies” to close Act I will have you grinning ear to ear. An unmitigated delight to see Jake through the years and command your attention so joyfully.
Brandon Jones (“Lady Day…,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’”) works his wiles as Frog, frequently chuckling at his own jokes or the behavior of his friend. The heart of the play, the lifelong affection between the two, shines brightest in Mr. Jones’s portrayal, especially in “Merry Almost Christmas.”
The musical isn’t sticky-sweet and frequently brings up childhood fears of loneliness, body image or abandonment. The strongest effect it had on a couple of young patrons sitting next to me was their snail-like exit from the theater. Chores might take a little longer this weekend. To top it off, after the curtain call, there’s a mega-mix of Christmas Carols with the cast and four Playhouse stagehands that will plaster a smile on your face. This was a delightful evening celebrating the eternal worth of a constant friend.
Through 12/19 at Cohoes Music Hall