In two pond-side homes, two creatures sleep, each with their pointy, bent knees covered by a blanket – one green, the other speckled brown, green, and red. These sleepers are Frog (Mason Hawkes) and Toad (Nathan LaPointe), friends so close that they appear in each other’s dreams.
Their sleep has been long. But now, finally – as a flock of jazzy birds with suitcases swoops in to announce – “Spring is almost here!”
The thaw means new adventures for the amphibian friends and their forest neighbors in “A Year with Frog and Toad.” The vaudeville-inflected musical adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s beloved children’s stories is the latest production of The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, directed by Joshua Chard and with musical direction by Bob Gauthier.
I caught a performance of “Frog and Toad” in a giant inflated igloo at Carnaval, on Portland’s Eastern Prom; it now runs at CMTM’s Maddy’s Theatre through March 20. This fun, good-spirited, and effervescently performed show is a perfect balm for kids 3-10 (and their grownups) as we all crane our necks toward spring.
As tight as Frog and Toad are, they are somewhat of an odd couple. Frog, tall and cheery in a smart green waistcoat and straw boater, is a confident, early rising optimist who’s up for anything. Toad, in his golden-brown corduroys, is skeptical about spring and more prone to slump, to feel afraid or hurt.
But through small gifts, selfless acts, and honest talk, the friends work through the hard stuff, and Hawkes and LaPointe make their rapport real and warm.
And whether they’re singing about delicious cookies or scary giant frogs, their voices and movement soar, in concert with a delightful ensemble of creatures (Morgan Fanning, Emily Grotz, Brie Roche, and Caleb Streadwick). The vaudeville, jazz, and cabaret stylings of the adaptation mingle lovingly with animal likenesses, and the ensemble delivers with great panache and heart.
We’re treated to harmonizing, feather-hatted birds doing a little fluttery shuffling, a Snail hurrying verrrry sloowwwly to deliver a letter, and Frog and Toad’s terrific soft-shoe number with rakes as canes (and percussion). Frog and Toad even just stand around with nicely froggy flourishes, their feet turned out in first position, hands on hips.
Chard and Gauthier’s direction and Betsy Dunphy’s choreography come together beautifully through all of this to make everything pop and sing, and Phoebe Little’s simple costumes shine – Snail’s backpack and antennae-ed hat, a mole chorus’ bright yellow hands and soft brown caps.
One of the many things I’ve long loved about CMTM is that their shows not only have plenty of fun and theatrical sparkle, but that they also speak to kids as whole, complex people – people who deal with a lot of the same feelings and conflicts as grown-ups. In “Frog and Toad,” the two friends don’t always get along. They have to reckon with feelings of sadness, disappointment, fear, and anger. Frog and Toad’s modeling of openness and radical candor in relationships might pose good reminders for some of us adults in the audience, too.
And so, once again, CMTM offers us delight, silliness, the wonders of theatrical transformation, and real heart lessons. “Frog and Toad” offers inspiration for all of us as our own spring edges closer, and as we, too, start reawakening into the world.
Megan Grumbling is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Portland. Find her at megangrumbling.com.
Signs of spring
Spring may not be springing quite yet, but the season’s shows certainly are. Here are some highlights of what’s opening now or soon:
• Portland Stage Company starts the season with sci-fi. The last ship escaping from uninhabitable Earth finally arrives at a new planet – only to find, as PSC nicely puts it, “a planet full of unimpressed people of color who are not happy to see them.” Greg Lam’s Clauder Competition-winning show “Last Ship to Proxima Centauri” runs March 2-20 on the Mainstage. https://www.portlandstage.org/.
• From PSC’s Studio Theater comes a staged reading of a superb new work that I’ve seen in development: Portland actor/director/writer Tess Van Horn’s “Secrets of Minnie,” March 14 at 7 p.m. Loosely based on the life of Van Horn’s great-grandmother, the ensemble show explores questions of family trees, mental illness, and “the stories that get lost to time.” A post-show talkback will follow the reading.
• A colleague of mine has a sign on their office door that reads “Don’t believe everything you think.” That seems in the spirit of master storyteller Chris Newcomb’s new collection of tales, “Think You Might Be Wrong.” The one-man show runs March 2-6 at Footlights Theater in Falmouth. FMI: https://www.snowlionrep.org/.
• For anyone looking forward to spring weddings, Good Theater has a rom-com for you: In “Significant Other,” March 2-20, a group of friends navigate the bachelorette parties and outfits as they home in on love. Good Theater has assembled a great cast for this show. FMI: https://www.goodtheater.com/.
• A mystery on a train sets out at Lyric Music Theatre. Who has stabbed a man in his sleeping car? Find out in Agatha Christie’s classic Hercule Poirot mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express,” March 11-27. FMI: https://lyricmusictheater.org/.
— Megan Grumbling