Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Soft shoe to an amphibian show

Children's classic 'Frog and Toad' opens in Hailey

Express Staff Writer

From a lily pad to the stage, Jim Remke and Andrew Alburger are all wet playing best friends. Photo by Kirsten Shultz

Remember those adorable "Frog and Toad" books by Arnold Lobel about a couple of lovable amphibians? These children's classics remain some of the easiest and sweetest books to share with a child. Now, just imagine the characters coming to life. Well, in fact, the books made it to the stage in much the same way J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" was famously turned into a stage production, thus becoming a triple-threat classic in page, stage and film.

Commissioned by Lobel's daughter Adrienne Lobel, a professional set designer, the play opened on Broadway in 2004 with sets she designed. It went on to be nominated for several Tony Awards.

She likes to tell a story from when she was a little girl. In the garden one day, her father called out to her. "Look, Adrienne, I have a frog." She replied, "Daddy, that's a toad." It was apparently this incident that led to the classic stories "Frog and Toad Together," "Frog and Toad All Year" and "Days With Frog and Toad."

At its heart, this musical is a story about friends who enjoy each other although they are very different. It begins with the best friends waking from hibernation in spring then singing and dancing their way through the circle of one year. They share seasonal activities as the year progresses.

The words and music were composed by William Reale with a swinging, toe-tapping rhythm. The music is in keeping with Lobel's taste for 1930s music, which he listened to while he wrote his beloved books.

Directed by John Glenn, "it's material that's funny and fun," he said.

The sets seem to pop right from the book pages to the Liberty's stage. Andrew Alburger plays Toad, newcomer Jim Remke appears as Frog, while Lynn Allison, Rachel Abrahms and John Glenn complete the cast by playing a variety of other creatures.

Nancy Harrington came in from Baltimore to choreograph, and Dennis Rexroad created the set.

"I was drawn to what a lovely job was done translating the books to the stage," Glenn said. "There's such honesty, simplicity and charm and I wanted to try to capture that. R.L, (Rowsey) and I saw a production last spring. It was a big production with lots of money, but I think they strayed. Everybody's looking to do their own take, but my take is I just want to do my best to bring the books to life on stage, in a way I perceive was Mr. Lobel's intention."

Musical Director R. L. Rowsey fairly skips through the fun music on piano while leading his band of Wood River High School Jazz Band members Samantha Engel, Simone Kastner, Dustin Bradley and Brian Town.

Much of the fun of the show comes from the gleeful talent trodding the boards. Alburger is a veteran Company of Fools member and Boise-based actress Allison was seen last year in "The Sisters Rosensweig." But Abrahms, who's known Rowsey since she was 5 years old, and Remke are new faces.

An actress based in New York, Abrahms was in the recent national road shows of "Cabaret" and "Annie."

"She's making her way," Glenn said. "R.L. has been an important part of her life actually and I've known her for 15 years. We called and the timing was perfect, so it's old-friend week in a way."

Chicago-born actor Remke moved from Los Angeles nearly a year ago, after paying his dues there in film and theater.

"I needed to get away from the urban sprawl," he said. A previous resident of the valley, he chose to return last year permanently. His day job is working in public relations for Living Architecture in Ketchum.

"'Frog and Toad' is my first musical," he said. "Working with R.L. and John who wear so many hats has given me so much confidence in so many areas. It's been an eye-opening experience. It feels like being a kid again. There's a lot of energy, some of it goofy sometimes and just to let it all loose and just have fun."

There are special prices and events that are planned during the run of the show, including student matinees and a First Book Fund-raiser. This event, on April 22, is co-sponsored by the Environmental Resource Center and will raise funds to read to and give books to low-income families. It will conclude with a party at KB's restaurant in Hailey. All the shows will have for sale frog and toad cookies created by Mary Jones of Chocolate Moose. Webb Landscaping is creating an in-lobby water feature as well as plant stations throughout the theater.

After a winter that was both long and dark, Glenn is reveling in the fixed smiles on his cast and crew's faces.

"This is one of those shows where we're having a good time together, along with the work, which is so nice. There is so much music with a Dixieland-ish jazzy feel it just puts a smile on your face."


'Frog and Toad'

· Company of Fools presents "A Year With Frog and Toad," based on the book by Arnold Lobel, words and music by William Reale.

· Wednesday, April 19, through May 7, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.

· All performances are 7 p.m. except Sunday, April 23 and 30, and May 7 matinees at 3 p.m.

· Tickets are $18, $10 for children under 18.

· Pay What You Feel Preview is Wednesday, April 19. Tickets available at box office the evening of the performance only.

· Box office: 578-9122.

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