By Jori Waldron
My mother majored in theatre and put me on the stage from the time that I could walk. I participated in many shows, then directed high school theater for 10 years. I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of performances, and Chicago Children’s Theatre’s remarkable production of A Year with Frog and Toad is the best children’s show I have ever seen.
It begins with a well-written script, jokes for the adults as well as the children and many catchy and memorable songs, including “Cookies,” “Getta Loada Toad” and “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.” The show features a tremendously talented cast of five people who not only sing beautifully and put a great deal of personality into their characters, but they all play musical instruments, in some cases several, that enhance the trio who plays under the gazebo throughout the show.
The two leads, Frog (Matthew Yee) and Toad (Andy Nagraj), are both so endearing and relatable that they may remind older members of an animal odd couple. With sweet voices, the two females, Lauren Vogel and Jazelle Morriss, bring pep and joy every time they step on stage. However, the Snail (Shawn Pfautsch) really steals the show. His ongoing song about delivering the mail was so clever that I laughed so hard I cried…at a children’s show.
Director Stuart Carden also enhances the show with a creative set up and scenery. The theater is a room with rubber couches interspersed with some chairs along two sides of the room. The walls are decorated with flowers and water, making the audience feel as though they are inside the swamp. At one end of the room sits Frog’s home and at the other sits Toad’s home, and the performers are often only inches away from audience members, encouraging audience interaction. The actors seamlessly bring props and instruments on and off the stage, in and out of the three hidden doors in the room.
As the title suggests, the plot follows a year in the life of Frog and his friend Toad based on the children’s book series. It goes through each season and shows the different things that animals do in different weather. It has a fun pool scene, an exciting sled ride and a heartwarming Christmas song. For further plot summary, click here. All these vignettes lead to a lovely message about friendship and being yourself that even the youngest children will understand.
This show is perfect for a first-time theater goer as it only lasts 65 minutes and stays fairly fast-paced, slowed only by a few ballads. One “warning” to patrons considering bringing smaller children: There is one somewhat scary part; a giant frog with glowing red eyes appears briefly and speaks in a voice as though he’s officiating a wedding in The Princess Bride, so be ready. Otherwise, the friendly staff, convenient access to the highway and the free parking (so rare for downtown) all add to the high-quality production to make this a wonderful experience.
Do not miss this chance to expose children to a top-notch performance that everyone in the family will truly enjoy.
Chicago Children’s Theatre presents “A Year With Frog and Toad” through November 12 at The Station, 100 S. Racine Ave., Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Charles Osgood.