WORTHINGTON - A family-friendly musical based on the award-winning “Frog and Toad” picture book series by Arnold Lobel will have its Worthington premiere next weekend at the Minnesota West Fine Arts Theater.
“It’s very funny and incorporates a good deal of silliness,” said director Eric E. Parrish, theater and music instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
“But the musical really revolves around friendship - the importance of it in one’s life, and of having people around who are important to you.”
Created by brothers Robert and Willie Reale, “A Year with Frog and Toad” was developed by the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis into a 90-minute show that debuted in 2002, enjoyed a short run on Broadway in 2003 and was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
“This is a fun, light-hearted family theater opportunity,” noted Parrish. “We need some happiness after a fall full of negative political messages, and this is free of all that.”
Indeed, “A Year with Frog and Toad” is set in a pond - not a swamp - and focuses on Frog (portrayed by Than Than Kyaw) and Toad (Sam Martin). It unfolds while sharing the gentle, often amusing aspects of their lives and relationship over the course of four seasons.
“The first act is spring/summer and the second act is fall/winter,” said Parrish. “This musical is a little episodic, but it’s so well-written and put together, with music that’s so fun to sing, that I could do it forever.”
The music is a mix of bluegrass and jazz; local musicians Liz Berger and Kurt Haag provide keyboard accompaniment.
“Than Than soloes on a really pretty song, ‘Alone,’” said Parrish. “He does a very nice job with it. And there’s a big dance number called ‘He’ll Never Know’ when Frog and Toad each secretly rake the other’s leaves.
“They do a little soft-shoe maneuvering with rakes.”
Martin, a 2018 Worthington High School (WHS) graduate and a veteran of four school musicals and three plays, initially found that dance sequence - he calls it “huge” - challenging.
“Dancing is not my best thing, but I felt so proud after working for weeks to master a certain dance move,” said Martin, who appeared as the Wolf in the WHS production of “Into the Woods” last winter.
“And my grandpa says I’m starting to get typecast as an animal.”
Besides Martin and Kyaw, the cast includes students Megan Wass, Alex Bauman and Brittney Allard, who pull double duty as birds and other creatures (think turtle, mouse and snail).
“I thought this was a perfect show for the talents of my current students,” endorsed Parrish. “And anyone who knows Than Than and Sam in particular will love it because it’s so ‘them,’ with their characters amplifying their real-life personalities.”
Martin, however, believes one of his peers has the potential to steal the show.
“Alex Bauman as the snail is hilarious, just great,” said Martin. “People will love him.”
Assisting Parrish with the production are student stage managers/assistant directors Dominic Burns and Chris Nelsen, and faculty technical assistants Roxanne Hayenga and Paul Seifert.
Parrish planned the performance schedule with both children and adults in mind. On opening night, a catered dinner sponsored by the Minnesota West Foundation (and benefiting the Minnesota West Foundation’s theater scholarship fund) is an option, with the show following.
The other two performances are weekend matinees, making it easily accessible for the under 10 crowd.
“Young children who see ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ will love it on one level while older people appreciate it in multiple ways,” he added.
“And at 90 minutes, it’s well suited for kids’ shorter attention spans.”
Its family-friendly humor and message will appeal, Parrish hopes, to a broad audience.
Observed Parrish, “’A Year with Frog and Toad’ celebrates that it’s our differences that make us unique and special.”
The Minnesota West Community and Technical College Fine Arts Department presents “A Year with Frog and Toad” at the college’s fine arts theater, 1450 College Way, Worthington. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17-18. Tickets are available at the door beginning one hour prior to each show time.
A catered dinner (chicken with mushroom sauce or pork loin with green beans, baked potato and apple crisp) is available at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, in the Minnesota West Commons. Proceeds benefit the Minnesota West Foundation’s theater scholarship fund. Dinner reservations may be made through Wednesday, Nov. 14, by calling 372-3448.