Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 19, 2016
|Kate Ayers as Toad, Harrison Fry as Frog. Photo by David Nowitz|
Olympia Family Theater’s A Year with Frog and Toad is so joyous that watching it should banish all thoughts of election season politicking. For more than an hour all worries about war and poverty and climate change should go away.
It is the show Olympia Family Theater opened its first season with, and has become the company’s every-five-year anniversary show. This year marks the 10th season for this most enjoyable children’s theater.
Based on the books by Arnold Lobel and directed by Jen Ryle, Frog and Toad is a celebration of friendship, following a year in the life of these best of friends. Kate Ayers is Toad. Toad is neurotic, often fearful and excitable. Harrison Fry is Frog. Frog is as different from Toad as different can be. He is calm and caring, a voice of reason, and he will do anything for his friend Toad.
Ayers and Fry are wonderfully matched. As Ayers has proven in so many performances — Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Lyle the Crocodile; Busytown; The Monster Under the Bed; and more — she is among the most expressive of actors on South Sound stages, with broad facial expressions and wonderfully exaggerated physical moves. Plus she sings with a clear and lovely voice. Fry, who has been outstanding in everything from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to Prince Rupert in Cinder Edna, is thoroughly loveable as Frog. He is the sweet calm in the storm.
Also a pure delight is Ted Ryle as Snail with the mail. Every time he walks across the stage the kids in the audience go wild. So do a lot of the adults. Who remembers Arte Johnson as the dirty old man on “Laugh In”? Every time Ryle carries the mail with his hurried-slow shuffle it is like Arte Johnson when Ruth Buzzi hits him on the head with her purse. It’s hilarious.
The set, props, and special effects are preciously cheesy-cheap. Admittedly “cheesy” and “cheap” are not usually complimentary terms, but in this show they apply purposefully and perfectly. Everyone knows the seeds in the box are going to sprout into flowers, and kids in the audience stand up and crane their necks in anticipation of seeing it. The snowy slope Frog and Toad sled down is nothing up a white sheet draped over some makeshift construction, but what they do with it is magical and ridiculously funny. And then there’s the puppet Large and Terrible Frog, and Toad’s puppet legs — you have to see it to believe it (credit scenic designer Steve Bylsma, scenic engineer David Nowitz, prop artist Rachel Ikehara-Martin, and puppet artist Sarah Lykins).
Also playing a huge role in the success of this play is the band: keyboardists Stephanie Claire and David Lane, bassist Matt Fearon, and drummer Theresa McKenzieSullivan.
The choreography by Amy Shephard is lot of fun and the costumes by Mishka Navarre are delightful, especially the colorful birds’ dresses, which make the quartet of singing birds look like a psychedelic girl group from 1962.
A Year with Frog and Toad is a show for children of all ages; i.e., parents will love it as well.
A Year with Frog and Toad, Fri., 7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. through June 5, pay what you can June 20, $13-$19, http://olyft.org/tickets, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia, 360-570-1638
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