Perky Frog (Brian Pekol) and grumpy Toad (Robert J. Knutson) are the enchanting title characters in “A Year With Frog and Toad,” currently running at Old Log Theater. Even if the show didn’t have a charming Christmas scene, it’s the kind of heartwarming musical perfectly suited to the season.
This is not the same show that had its world premiere at Children’s Theatre Company in 2002 and had a successful run on Broadway in 2003. The authors, Robert and Willie Reale, created an hourlong reduction of the show that is ideal for young kids.
Four songs are lost in this version. Most of the best ones are included, but Frog’s paean to solitude, “Alone,” is sadly missing.
Like the children’s books by Arnold Lobel upon which it’s based, the musical is made up of several discrete stories. And this production beautifully captures the innocence of the source material. R. Kent Knutson directs with a clean and unfussy hand, but he’s not above some wonderfully broad comic shtick, such as a man-sized costumed frog jumping rope, or a scathing parody of “Les Misérables.”
Although there is something delightfully childlike about the production, it’s performed with complete professionalism. Music director Ian Zahren has created a strong musical ensemble that effectively puts across the deceptively simple score.
Pekol and Knutson are well-matched as comic foils. Frog’s wide-eyed eagerness nicely balances Toad’s grumbly stuffiness.
Among the strong supporting cast, the standouts are Greg Eiden’s campy Snail, who takes four months and a trip all around the auditorium, to deliver a letter from Frog to Toad, and Larissa Gritti, whose strong voice is displayed most brightly as Turtle.
Eric Paulson’s set has a cartoonlike simplicity, which he was able to light in ways that created stage magic. Jan Battles displays creative wit in her costumes, such as fashioning Snail’s shell with a rolled-up sleeping bag hung from his back.
Rob Knutson is the son of the director, and Steven Frankenfield, a member of the ensemble, is the son of the new owners. They’re carrying on the Stolz tradition of multiple generations working together. Kent Knutson, who is also artistic director, is very vocal about the legacy he inherited from Don Stolz. “A Year With Frog and Toad” honors that legacy.
William Randall Beard writes about music and theater.