This production deserves nominations for the Solano Community Theatre awards of this season. I definitely plan to return for its final weekend with friends and my little tadpole. But, you do not have to be a child to enjoy the benefits of the productions. I sat next to a group of professional working women. They said that they laughed more than they have at Pepperbelly’s. Funny, so did I.
Well worthy of attendance, Solano Community College break outs with a winning production of a Broadway musical, “A Year with Frog and Toad.” It felt like being back at a real Broadway production with the sumptuous set designs, creative costumes, professional live music accompaniment, and the incredibly talented cast. The musical was nominated for Best Musical for the 2003 Tony Awards. The creative collaboration of two brothers, Willie Reale (lyrics and book) and Robert Reale (music), is lively, whimsical, and enchanting. It is based on Arnold Lobel’s children’s book with the same title. Though, this is a very entertaining and ideal for adult audiences. A friendship between Frog and Toad grows stronger as they experience fun, emotions, and challenges through the changing seasons.
Director, Holli Hornlien, and choreographer, Tom Segal, create a lively picture of animal characters. Laura Pedersen-Schulz and Taylor Jones move sharply with quick head movements that characterize their “Lady Bird” roles. Their costumes are sharply defined dress suits with feather tails attached. Steven Mox, as the Man Bird, joins his female ensemble in his refined movements as he struts proudly in his long tail jacket. Katie Iler is priceless as the sweet feminine mouse in her 1920’s style grey dress and hat, with a brim of pink. She stealthily tip toes around the stage in her mouse like movements. Zack Daly, Jamelle Marshall-Williams, Matthew Robinson make a jolly crew that perform as moles and squirrels. They have fun on stage with their playful dances. As moles, they suddenly creep out from doorway underneath the stage in dark sunglasses. They move well in time with the music. The vocal quality of the smaller roles enhance the wonderful score of Reale.
The ensemble of the “Ziegfield girls” add humor to the production. The choreography mimics the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s. I love the different array of costumes of the Ziegfield girls. When Toad swims in the logan, they appear in flapper swimsuits with coral beads as if they were jellyfish. In the winter scene, they appear in snow dresses as if they were snowflakes. Costume designer, Hannah Phillips-Ryan, definitely put in some hard detailed work. Her efforts paid off as the costumes were enjoyable to watch just as the dancing was entertaining.
There is also an ensemble of younger performers in the roles of the seedlings. They are adorable in their flower costumes, and yet, perform with dedication and attentiveness.
John Rivard, as Snail, who takes three seasons to deliver a letter from Frog to Toadk, nearly steals the show. He wears cowboy boots and a brown western coat and vest. He strolls with pronounced slowly leading leg that draws him across the stage as he bellows out his numbers. Rivard ignites the stage with his personality and humor. Rivard scored many laughs from the audience throughout the show. This snail certainly does not hold back the pace of the show.
Toad happens to be a frazzled type of fellow, who greatly depends on his more stable friend, Frog. Frog, who happens to be more practical and at ease, always seems to be concern about his ever-worrisome pal, but immensely enjoys his company. The two main performers precisely portray the personal quirks of their characters. Brian Herndon reminds me of Gene Wilder in his role as Toad. He lends his role much lovable charisma. I love listening to Hendron’s voice in both his speaking lines and singing. As Frog, Edward Hightower defines his role with seriousness, but carries his friendly admiration and devotion to his pal, Toad. Hightower and Herndon work well with each other. It feels as if they actually had shared a long friendship. Their costumes are also done with great fun and detail.
The production carries a early Twentieth Century flavor with the 1920’s stylized costumes. The toe-tapping tempo of the music resembles the vaudeville halls of that time. The stage set draws us into complete enchantment of Toad and Frog’s surroundings. I love their mushroom houses, the log on the wheels, the large frog puppet, the high swings for the birds, and much more of the elaborate and ever changing set. Stephen Wathen has created a set of exceptional imagination.
This production deserves nominations for the Solano Community Theatre awards of this season. I definitely plan to return for its final weekend with friends and my little tadpole. But, you do not have to be a child to enjoy the benefits of the productions. I sat next to a group of professional working women. They said that they laughed more than they have at Pepperbelly’s. Funny, so did I. Well worth your money to check out our local community college talent this upcoming weekends!
A Year with Frog and Toad
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Ends April 13, 2008
Solano College Campus Theatre
4000 Suisun Valley Road*Fairfield