Welcome back, Frog. Welcome back, Toad.
StageWorks Fresno’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” was a superlative show when it opened last December at Severance Theatre. After a viewing of this year’s inspired incarnation, I’m happy to report that my opinion hasn’t changed. If anything, I’m even more insistent that the show’s intimacy and impact make it a must-see for those who want to expose their children to quality theater.
Brent Moser and Joel C. Abels return as Frog and Toad, respectively, and in the careful hands of these veteran performers, the gentle warmth and clever, heartfelt insights of Arnold Lobel’s popular series of popular children’s books remain ever as delightful.
There are two cast changes from last year, but any Fresno theatergoer knows that you’re in safe hands when those names are Taylor Abels and Danielle Jorn. They play two of the three ensemble members who play the birds and other assorted animals who pop in and out of Frog and Toad’s idyllic existence. Each gets a chance to shine. (This year, for some reason, the Moles — who in their stiff fur coats have a sort of crusty, Baltic swagger — particularly tickled my funny bone.)
Cody Bianchi’s vocals are even better this year than last, as his scene-stealing Snail — who is given the very important task by Frog of delivering a letter to Toad — belts it out to the farthest confines of the forest.
Director J. Daniel Herring obviously has a deep and abiding affinity for the material, which is a biggie in the canon of Theatre for Young Audiences. What I like so much about the show is how grown-up it seems even as it pursues its gentle juvenile themes of friendship, sharing, frustration and fitting in. There’s no pandering here, no easy kiddie gags. Just a space that seems warm and comfortable.
Plus the show has a song titled “Cookies,” just before intermission, and the smell of cookies wafts in as the performers expound the virtues of the best dessert in the world. Are there warm cookies for sale afterward? Of course. Frog and Toad wouldn’t have it any other way.