A joyful journey in ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’

This year’s season opened with the delightful, Tony-nominated musical, “A Year with Frog and Toad.”

The play, featuring Scott Duell as Frog and Margaret Warrington as Toad, both making their debuts at Millbrook this summer, follows the two friends as they awake from hibernation in the spring and then go on to face the promises and challenges that come with each new season.

The play, with its toe-tapping musical score, takes the audience on a joyful journey to a time grounded in childhood when openness to experience makes the simple pleasure of planting a garden or taking a sled ride its own joyous reward.

Frog and Toad are not without their quirks and foibles. Frog can be infuriatingly reasonable, and perhaps a bit oblivious, while Toad succumbs at times to insecurity and impetuousness.

While the two express their connection from the very beginning, it’s only toward the end of the play, when these quirks have collided and their friendship has been tested, that we see a stronger bond emerge. Duell and Warrington have wonderful stage chemistry, and they work their magic endearingly. We are entranced.

The play succeeds in creating magic from the beginning, with the help of its ensemble players, Georgia Vanry, Leron Wellington, and Aubrey Potash, who make the natural world come alive by populating it with an entire cast of whimsical creatures, each of which – in tribute to the players’ versatility — has its own voice and distinct personality.

Creative stagecraft also creates charming effects. We love seeing the birds alight in the spring with their suitcases, ready to set up house, we love the moles with their spy-glasses and the snappish turtle with her garbage-lid shell. And we are immediately taken with the self-deluded Snail who prides himself on his supposed ability to deliver the (snail) mail at an accelerated pace (“I put the go in escargot!”) and who, after a series of near misses and failed deliveries, finally saves the day.

Snail was the favorite of the young theatre-goers who sat to my left at Friday’s performance (though one said she also voted for Toad’s grumpy refusal to wake from hibernation). They were clearly enthralled, as was I. The young, as well as the young-at-heart, will love this play. It runs until June 15.

And on a final note, I would like to include a quote from the letter to patrons by David Leidholdt, Millbrook’s artistic director, included on the back of the program. “It is easy to become complacent and take for granted that for the past 56 years, the Millbrook Playhouse consistently produced eight shows a summer, and now produces off season work while running a thriving educational department and youth ensemble where local students are mentored by working professionals from all over the country… There is an invisible value to what we do, because we as a community have come to expect excellence from the Playhouse and its staff because we make up such an integral part of the cultural tapestry of Clinton County, and have for such a long time.”

The value of the Playhouse is clear. We are lucky that this cultural institution in our midst, the “miracle in the mountains,” is still with us. We need to do our part to make sure Millbrook continues to thrive. See you at the barn!

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Karen Elias lives in Swissdale. She taught English for more than 30 years, most recently at Lock Haven University and Penn College.

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