A Review of Star Struck’s ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’

by Dan Harper
Bay Area Theater Bums – January 19, 2006

Starstruck Theatre, of Fremont, debuted “A Year with Frog and Toad” last weekend to Bay Area audiences unsure of what to expect. Given the title “A Year with Frog and Toad” I almost made the mistake of dismissing this musical gem. The title gave me the knee-jerk reaction of  “Ugg! A kiddie show?!?”  Let me put one thing on the table right now: this is NOT a “Barney” show. It exceeded my expectations as it did the entire audience. “A Year with Frog and Toad” demonstrates a strong undertone of maturity in the foundation of this musical’s deceptively simple subject matter which makes watching these performers a treat for adults and a very fun diversion for four year olds.

A synopsis of the story: The audience is taken on a trip as they follow the adventures of Frog and Toad  from their waking from hibernation in the spring, through summer, fall, and winter. While Frog is graceful and eloquent he recognizes the well-meaning intentions and fun nature hidden beneath his friend Toad’s pessimistically rough exterior. The friendship between the two is quasi-“odd couple”-ish.

With a wonderful cast exceeding thirty performers, the entirety of “A Year with Frog and Toad” is carried on the backs of two outstanding actors: Evan Boomer as Frog and Jordan Aragon as Toad.  The chemistry between both actors is prominently consistent throughout the show as they breathe life into their characters. Toad’s ballad to “Seeds” is an unforgettable melody which Aragon sings brilliantly. Another heart felt ballad is “Alone” sung by Frog (Boomer). But this is not a musical of ballads. Both Boomer and Aragon’s impressive vocal talents are used to their fullest as they sing, act and dance with uninhibited enthusiasm as in their performances of “Cookies” and “Down the Hill.” Also notible are the supporting lead cast members who double in ensemble roles.

The Bird Trio played by Juliane Godfrey, Hannah Yang and Daniel Schonhaut beautifully execute tight harmonies resonant of the legendary Manhattan Transfer style. Turtle (Michelle Foletta), Lizard/ Father Frog (Jason Zelt), and Mouse (Jordan Jolly) are stand-out talents who propel the show further with comic relief camoflaged in song. On the subject of comedy James M. Jones portrays the endearing Snail who has taken on the civil service position of letter carrier. Jones’ character confidentally enters and exits the stage several times through the seasons as he attempts to deliver a letter written by Frog. Jones’ rendition of Snail’s show-stopping “I’m Coming Out of My Shell” song is both memorable and reminds the audience not to judge a book by its cover. The remaining gambit of dancers, moles, bees, squirrels, ants, seeds and flowers are an important credit to this show’s success and cannot be dismissed nor forgotten. Each part is woven perfectly into place creating a disbelief suspending world around which Frog and Toad exist.

The production value of this community effort is amazingly top notch. Even the intermitent wavering of mic-packs could not diminish the high quality of this polished production. The music was in a word: excellent. Nancy Godfrey (a surgeon by day) conducts seven remarkable talents hidden in the orchestra pit while lending her own talents on keyboard.

Held in the Smith Center Theatre of Ohlone College “A Year with Frog and Toad” is a spectacle to behold. Lighting designer Christopher Booras illuminates Stephen Wathen’s breath-taking scenic art , set designer Mark Aragon’s innovative concepts and the stage performers draped in Marlene Borlaug’s creative and numerous costume creations with extreme sensitivity to the on-playing story. It is important to note that although the set and costumes used in this production all appear to be of professional quality, it is from volunteer and employees of Starstruck Theatre who have elaborately built and painted the sets and meticulously sewn costumes from scratch.

Director Lori Stokes successfully approached this musical obviously seeking to please a wide variety of audience members. During the show, nothing is lost from one generation of audience to the other. Stokes direction plays equally to entertain younger and older audiences. One of Stokes’ creative use of the ensemble is her tribute to the musical “Les Miserable” during the harrowing song “Toad to the Rescue.” Stokes vision coupled with fitting choreography by Jeanne Batacan-Harper gels together well to create performances where no movement is wasted and no moment is thrown away. Stokes leadership of her Stastruck team and understanding of the theme of this musical obviously pays-off as the audience leaves the theatre feeling sympathetic to all characters; especially Frog and Toad’s relationship of unconditional friendship.

In conclusion, see this show! This musical has much to offer. With catchy tunes that will be replaying in your head hours after you’ve gone home to rest, Starstruck’s production of “A Year with Frog and Toad”  is fun and energetic. Starstruck has taken a musical meant to feature only five actors and turned it into a grandiose extravaganza. To ever see this show produced at this quality with less than thirty performers is difficult to imagine. For those searching for cabaret and audition pieces this is the show not to miss. This is the show that will begin cropping up a following akin to “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” “Nunsense,” “Forever Plaid” and “Honk!” to name a few. This show is strictly meant for toddlers of four years and above. For tickets go to: http://starstrucktheatre.org/tickets.html

Rating out of Five: 4.5