Embrace all things amphibian in Shakespeare Santa Cruz’ and the UCSC Theater Arts Department’s new offering
Move over Kermit, there’s another famous frog in town for the holidays. But instead of a motley muppet, this one is based on a character from the beloved children’s tales, “Frog and Toad.” Though officially the winter production of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the local theatrical powerhouse has teamed up with the UC Santa Cruz Theater Arts Department to produce a Broadway-endorsed musical treat.
Based on a series of children’s books written in the 1970s by Arnold Lobel, the “Frog and Toad” stories outline the adventures and misadventures of a friendly frog and a cantankerous toad as they negotiate the ups and downs of living a woodland life. A loveable assortment of forest creatures join them on occasion to create a panoply of engaging characters that entertain as well as teach various life lessons. The effect is that the story creates the perfect opportunity for adorable little animals to sing Disney-esque show tunes. But it wasn’t until 2002 that Lobel’s daughter Adrianne, saw the characters’ musical potential, that she commissioned the production. Thus, “A Year With Frog and Toad” was born. The peppy, G-rated musical quickly became a hit, finding its way to Broadway and becoming nominated for not one, but three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2003. Since then, the production has remained a family-centric favorite in regional theater circuits across the country.
“What’s really unique and special about the musical is that it was written for children, but it holds lessons for all of us regardless of our ages,” says Art Manke, director of “A Year With Frog and Toad.” The lively story follows the emerald duo and their friends through the seasons, whilst accompanied by a festive musical backdrop. “It’s just like a wonderful, old-fashioned Broadway musical.”
Of the fantastical amphibian foray, Kyle Clausen, managing director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz, is also excited. “I think the community will love it,” he says. “It is one of the most delightful family musicals I’ve ever encountered, and in particular I think people will love the music, which is a jazzy, Dixieland-inspired score that features a seven-piece band.
“In addition, it’s an incredibly well-crafted show. Both the script and music are great, and I think its success has been largely due to the fact that both adults and children can enjoy it equally.”
When selecting a production for the Shakespeare Santa Cruz winter show, Clausen admits that it can be an arduous task. “There are a lot of factors that go into choosing each production,” he explains. “For the holiday show, a big consideration is what will be attractive to families. ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ is a tale of friendship, and even if you aren’t familiar with the books, the stories are all ones we can relate to, and they are told in a charming way.”
Clausen also notes that since this is a co-production between Shakespeare Santa Cruz and the UCSC Theater Arts Department, another consideration is to choose a show that will allow professionals and amateurs to work together in an effective and educational capacity. Director Art Manke couldn’t agree more. “We have professional actors and directors, working alongside students,” Manke raves. “It’s wonderful for us and forces us to step up our game and be accountable for our work. It’s really stimulating to be around people who are just starting out in theater.”
With myriad accolades, cute creatures and catchy musical scores, who says it’s not easy being green? Despite the quip of one famous amphibian, “A Year With Frog and Toad” is hopping into town, full speed ahead.
“A Year With Frog and Toad” opens Friday, Nov. 18 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 11. For tickets and more information visit shakespearesantacruz.org.