- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Forget the turkey. Feast on amphibian this year with the delectable family musical “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the Round House Theatre.

The Tony-nominated show by Robert Reale and Willie Reale is based on Arnold Lobel’s four-book series about the lovable characters Frog (Will Gartshore) and Toad (Steve Tipton), two unlikely friends who breeze through a year together in their natural habitat, rendered here as a lovely, Tiffany-stained-glass world by set designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr.

Their corner of the bog includes a passel of animal friends played by Bobby Smith, Sherri L. Edelen and Erin Driscoll that include mice, turtles, snails, moles, lizards, squirrels and the birds — literally wearing cocked feathers in their caps — who herald the arrival of spring.

The musical, directed with quickness and a fresh sense of fun by Nick Olcott, starts with the animals’ emergence from hibernation and takes them through planting gardens, swimming, baking cookies, raking leaves, sledding and preparing for another snoozy winter.

Robert Reale’s jazzy score, reminiscent of hit tunes from the 1930s and ‘40s, punctuates the vignettes with songs that are bursting with melody and brisk harmonies. The lyrics also recall the upbeat wit and rhyme of bygone eras and songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

Standouts include the cowboy-music-inflected “The Letter,” in which Snail — portrayed with sleepy-eyed lethargy by Mr. Smith — meanders across the stage while explaining that he’s in an awful hurry, and the pun-filled torch song “I’m Coming Out of My Shell,” in which Snail discovers his inner Bob Fosse amid the goo.

Songs like “Cookies” daffily celebrate the joys of cooking, while the musical sequence “Shivers” pays tribute to the power of imagination when Frog nearly scares the warts off his friend while telling him a story about an evil amphibian. Miss Edelen is exceptional here playing a young frog separated from her parents — she’s wide-eyed and awkward as a child without overplaying the preciousness.

Like most inspired odd couples — Felix and Oscar, Bert and Ernie, to name a few — Frog and Toad don’t have much in common, except an affinity for the lily pad. Frog is a bouncy, cheerful fellow perpetually making lemonade out of lemons. His pal, Toad, is a more sour sort, his humor is more melancholy.

Together, they are ideal. Toad’s pessimism keeps his friend grounded, while Frog’s ebullience and spillover curiosity add zest to Toad’s squat life.

Even hopping around the stage in an L.L. Bean-inspired frog costume, Mr. Gartshore exudes leading-man charm and brio as Frog, singing the spry little ditties with such conviction you’d think they were Sondheim. Mr. Tipton proves a perfect partner as Toad, his long legs and lovably downcast expressions giving the impression that he is more earthbound than his friend.

Mr. Smith, Miss Driscoll and Miss Edelen provide a sanctuary’s worth of animal characters, ranging from nuttily paranoid squirrels to nearsighted moles and birds so feathery light they seem to perch on the stage. Rosemary Pardee’s ingenious costumes give the impression of various creatures without constraining the actors.

Although there is nothing about the holiday season, save for the low-key ballad “Merry Almost Christmas,” the airiness and bouncing good cheer of “A Year With Frog and Toad” will put you in the mood. Hop to it.

WHAT: “A Year With Frog and Toad”; music by Robert Reale, book and lyrics by Willie Reale

WHERE: Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Dec. 18.

TICKETS: $15 to $50

PHONE: 240/644-1100


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