Spend a Fantastic Year with Frog and Toad at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage

March 28, 2011

Bird from A Year with Frog and ToadFans of Arnold Lobel's classic series of Frog and Toad books will be charmed and entranced by Bay Area Children's Theatre's production of A Year with Frog and Toad. Even if you're not familiar with the adventures of the titular amphibian duo, you'll still enjoy this fun-filled live musical that chronicles the adventures of the best friends Frog and Toad.

A Year with Frog and Toad plays on weekends at 2 pm through April 17 at the Freight and Salvage coffeehouse on Addison Street in downtown Berkeley, and it's well worth the short drive from Marin. Our family took in a performance on opening weekend, and had one of our best children's theater experiences ever!

Charlie Cromer and William O'Neill are a delight in the roles of Frog and Toad, respectively, and the cast of supporting characters is expertly handled by Elana Cowen, Rebecca Pingree, and Reggie White, all of whom tackle the multiple roles of birds, moles, a turtle, a mouse, and more. White, in particular, just about steals the show as the enthusiastic but slow-moving snail who gives a literal read on the term "snail mail".

Frog and Toad and the cookiesThe show begins with Frog and Toad awakening from their winter-long hibernation, after being introduced by a trio of sassy birds. We then follow our two protagonists on a series of adventures, drawn directly from Lobel's stories, that take place throughout the year. Standout numbers include "Toad Looks Funny in a Bathing Suit", "Eating Cookies", "Merry Almost Christmas", and of course the "Snail with the Mail" song. Our kids were delighted to see several of their favorite stories performed to music, and it helped that we read from our Frog and Toad books the night before.

While sets, props, and costumes are seemingly miminal, the cast, story, and infectious tunes thoroughly draw you in and easily allow you fill in the gaps with your imagination. The audience during our performance—which seemed to be kids from 1 to 10 and their parents—sat pretty much in rapt attention through the performance. The intimate space of the Freight and Salvage (known mostly for its legendary lineup of bluegrass, old time, and other traditional American music) is the perfect venue for a show like this, with great sightlines from all of the seats and plenty of room for interaction with the performers, who occasionally broke loose from the confines of the stage and headed out into the audience. Audience participation was encouraged during two scenes, and each guest was handed a paper cookie and snowflake to wave at the appointed moments.

Signing autographs after the show at the Freight and SalvageOne of the highlights of the event was at the end, when the cast assembled in the lobby of the Freight and Salvage to autograph posters from the production (which were handed out to the children for free). The kids were delighted to be able to stop and talk with the performers who they had just seen on stage, and it was really a magical moment.

All told, it was a first-rate production and performance. It you're in search of funny, entertaining, and high quality children's theater, then look no further than this production of A Year with Frog and Toad. Although A Year with Frog and Toad is technically a children's performance, it's something that will be greatly enjoyed by grownups, too. In fact, many of the parents in attendance seemed to be having as good a time (or better!) than their children. A Year with Frog and Toad (with music by Robert Reale and book and lyrics by Willie Reale) was in fact originally on Broadway, where it was nominated for three Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

The Freight and Salvage has a snack bar on-site, where you can load up on (appropriately) cookies, hot chocolate, juice, coffee, and other drinks and snacks to enjoy during the performance. Each of the play's two acts was about 35 minutes in length, with an intermission. The Freight and Salvage is located at 2020 Addison Street, between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue, in downtown Berkeley. Convenient parking is available literally right next door at the Center Street Garage (there's an entrance on Addison). For directions and additional parking information, visit www.thefreight.org.

A Year with Frog and Toad poster imagePerformances of A Year with Frog and Toad take place on weekends at 2 pm from March 26 through April 17, 2011, with additional 11 am performances on Sunday, April 10 and 17.

Tickets are $14–$15 for children, $16–$17 for seniors, $18–$20 for adults, and $12–$13 for groups. To order, call the Bay Area Children's Theatre box office at (510) 296-4433 or visit www.bactheater.org.

After its run in Berkeley, A Year with Frog and Toad hops over to the Front Row Theatre in San Ramon, where it runs from April 30 through May 6. We were excited to see that future offerings from Bay Area Children's Theatre include musical versions of the popular children's books Go, Dog. Go!, Pinkalicious and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and more. More information on their website.