‘A Year With Frog and Toad’ is a warm and fuzzy start to fall

Theatre Cedar Rapids presents: A Year With Frog and Toad

Brucemore, Cedar Rapids -- through Sept. 12; $13-23

Aaron Pozdol (L) and Kehry Anson Lane in ‘A Year with Frog and Toad.’ — courtesy Theatre Cedar Rapids

Saturday was a beautiful almost-autumn evening at the Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheatre. Around me on the grassy hill at Brucemore was a full house (if there can be such a thing at an outdoor performance space) of families on picnic blankets and lawn chairs, snacking and playing tag as the performers and production team prepared to start the show.

A Year With Frog and Toad, presented by Theatre Cedar Rapids and Brucemore, is a cozy tale of amphibious friendship. Wise and responsible Frog and somewhat neurotic Toad, in all their adventures over the course of a single year between hibernations, enact Mr. Rogers-levels of neighborliness. A few of their escapades include learning to be patient as a spring garden grows; understanding that sometimes even the best of friends need a little time apart on a sunny island; a Gift of the Magi-esque scene about raking leaves; finding it in one’s heart to forgive after a minorly dramatic sledding incident; and more warm-and-fuzzy lessons.

Though Arnold Lobel’s lovable characters have recently enjoyed renewed memetic relevance, I do think that it’s helpful to note that A Year With Frog and Toad is a bright, chipper show for kiddos, probably best suited for ages 3-8 or so, with nary a “this one’s for the grown-ups” wink or nod to be found. But one need only hear the giggling participation of little ones in the blankets-only section down front to know that the show was a great success.

The set design was positively adorable. Frog’s cookie-tin home and Toad’s milk-carton abode are set in front of a fence of pencils and popsicle sticks, giving the stage an immersive sense of scale that I can only imagine will inspire many home puppet shows for parents. And — no spoilers! — a scene of autumnal spooky stories brings a clever stage transformation that was a big hit with the kids. The way that small changes to the set pieces and lighting not only reflected the passing seasons, but also worked with the outdoor conditions to tell the story, was very clever. And having the scene transitions made by stagehands dressed as various woodland creatures was a cute touch.

Kehry Anson Lane (Frog) and Aaron Pozdol (Toad) are a wonderful pair. Lane’s warm and reassuring voice and Pozdol’s bright character acting and physical comedy really brought the friendship to life. I was impressed by all cast members’ aptitude at grabbing and holding the children’s attention with engaging eye contact and physical acting.

Aaron Pozdol, Alex Granfield and Kehry Anson Lane (L-R) in ‘A Year with Frog and Toad.’ — courtesy Theatre Cedar Rapids

Alex Granfield’s rendition of the steadfast mail carrier Snail had every little one in the audience giggling in anticipation — I vote Granfield for next host of Blue’s Clues. The vocal blend between Granfield and the other two members of the creature chorus, Beth Nelsen and Anne Ohrt, was simply whimsical. I’ll probably have their voices singing “Getta Loada Toad” stuck in my head for the rest of my life.

This cast filled a simple show with imagination. I wish I could have watched the show through the kids’ eyes, because they were clearly having oodles of fun. And since the scenes are always changing but the characters remain recognizable throughout, the show was a good fit for young kids who need something new to capture their attention.

A couple of practical notes for parents: For the most part, families were sitting approximately five feet apart from one another, but if it would make you feel more comfortable to sit further away, I can assure you that from my position at the very back of the amphitheater I had no issues hearing or seeing the show. There is also plenty of grassy space around the amphitheater at Brucemore for restless little ones to stretch their legs and let off a little steam, if need be.

A Year With Frog and Toad ended at approximately 8:15 p.m., which may slightly overshoot bedtime for the littlest attendees — this, coupled with a somewhat tight parking situation at Brucemore, may make it wise to leave during the sledding scene, if your kids need to stick faithfully to a bedtime routine. And a word of warning: they WILL force you to buy cookies with not-so-subliminal messaging right before the act break.

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