Review: We Go to the Theater With the Kids—and We All Loved A Year With Frog and Toad at Chicago Children’s Theatre

Nothing makes children’s theater more fun than seeing it with a roomful of giggly squirmy grade schoolers. Usually I review new plays at Chicago Children’s Theatre during a weekend performance—with an audience of parents and kids, a crowd half adult. But this week I had the pleasure of seeing A Year With Frog and Toad with two busloads of first and second graders. We all loved it.

A Year With Frog and Toad, a children’s theater classic, is a sweet story of friendship between two amphibians—and their animal friends. Frog and Toad are best friends, despite occasional vicissitudes. They are BFFs, warts and all. Director Michelle Lopez-Rios and her creative team stage a beautifully designed setting with theater-in-the-round seating on comfy tiered benches. 

Nick Druzbanski and Eduardo Curley-Carrillo as Toad and Frog. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The story, as its title suggests, is life with Frog and Toad throughout the four seasons of the year, beginning as their winter hibernation ends and concluding four seasons later as they settle down  again for the winter. Eduardo Curley-Carrillo plays Frog with cheerful zest, balanced by Toad’s pessimistic fears about everything in life. Nick Druzbanski plays Toad as a middle-aged grump. Both actors leap into their seasonal activities—baking cookies, going to the beach, raking leaves, sledding—accompanied by joyous singing and dancing. Some of the songs are favorites like “Cookies,” “Getta Loada Toad,” and “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.” (Choreography by Micah Figueroa, music direction and sound by Christie Chilles Twillie.) 

Their friends—sometimes the Three-Bird chorus, sometimes Mouse, Squirrel, Snail, Turtle, Lizard, Mole, and Mother and Father Frog— are all played with pizzazz by Diego Vazquez Gomez, Laura Murillo Hart and Leslie Ann Sheppard. Vaszuez Gomez is particularly endearing as Snail, entrusted to deliver an important letter, which he does, with snail-like speed. 

The five actors, it should be noted, are theater graduates with significant performance resumes; this is a professional cast with the talent to perform Shakespeare, O’Neill or Shanley for adult audiences.

The Birds: Laura Murillo Hart, Diego Vazquez Gomez and Leslie Ann Sheppard. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The production team includes Courtney O’Neill's set design—a central stage area with smaller stages representing Frog’s and Toad’s homes. Jared Gooding is lighting designer and Lonnae Hickman is responsible for the amazing variety of props. The beach (where Toad is embarrassed to be seen in his swim suit) is creatively represented. Rachel Healy is responsible for costume design, including tails, shells and four-season gear. Shannon Golden-Starr is stage manager.

The play is adapted from children’s author and illustrator Arnold Lobel's beloved 1976 book, Frog and Toad All Year. The retitled musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, was commissioned by Lobel’s daughter and adapted by brothers Robert Reale (music) and Willie Reale (books and lyrics). It debuted in Minneapolis in 2002, ran briefly on Broadway and was Chicago Children’s Theatre’s first production in 2006; CCT has staged it several times since then. 

A Year With Frog and Toad has been extended through June 9 at Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave. Running time is 65 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 and 11:30am with 2pm matinees on select Saturdays (check the website). The play is recommended for all ages—toddlers, children, teens and even adults. Chicago Children’s Theatre is a “no shushing” theater; kids are encouraged at laugh, gasp and make noise whenever they wish. For tickets and information, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call 312-374-8835.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.