They’ve seen them on the page, but this weekend and next young readers — and their parents — can see Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” on the stage, a production of Nyack’s Stage Left Children’s Theater at the old Nyack High School in Nyack.
They’re all here: The optimistic Frog, the curmudgeonly Toad, moles and birds. There’s even a snail with the mail.
With music and lyrics by Robert Reale and a book by Willie Reale, “A Year with Frog and Toad” played Broadway in 2003, starring Jay Goede as Frog and Mark Linn-Baker, as Toad.
Linn-Baker is married to Adrianne Lobel, the author’s daughter and producer of the musical, which was nominated for best-musical Tony, but ran just 73 performances.
(Arnold Lobel died in 1987, having written or illustrated 100 books.)
Linn-Baker called to lend his support to Stage Left, which includes longtime friend Alan Ruck on its board of trustees. He says the moment of the show that he remembers most fondly is the Christmas scene, “which is sentimental, but it has a big heart.”
Stage Left founder and artistic director Ayn Lauren says the script is “the book come to life,” adding that she has heightened that by creating stage pictures taken directly from Arnold Lobel’s hugely popular series.
She says Willie Reale’s book for the musical is charming.
“Frog is singing about how he’s alone and how he loves being a frog and it brings tears to your eyes,” she says. “You forget they’re a frog and a toad.”
As advertised, the story follows a year in the life of two friends, the buttoned-down and wise Frog and the nervous, compulsive Toad. They plant seeds, rake leaves, row boats, bake cookies and ride sleds. Along for the story is a Greek chorus of birds who harmonize like the Andrews Sisters.
Lauren says Claudia Stefany’s animal costumes aren’t literal, they’re the suggestions of animals, with each group set in a particular era: “The moles are from the ‘70s; the birds are the ‘40s; the herons are the ‘20s; the frog family are the Cleavers, from ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and they’re all in black-and-white, like a flashback.”
Stage Left musical director Rachel Robinson says Robert Reale’s jazz-based score is trickier than it sounds.
“It doesn’t necessarily go where your ear thinks it’s always going to go,” she says. “It’s hard for young voices, but the result is great, really cool. With nice, tight, crunchy harmonies.”
The Broadway cast numbered five. Stage Left has two 40-member casts — red and blue —?with actors from 7 to 18.
Linn-Baker says the more the merrier.
“The thing that I love about the show is that it winds up being done all over the place and being done by local companies,” he says. “Even when we were doing it at the beginning in big theaters it still had a very homegrown feeling.”
Mitchell Schneider, 16, of New City, plays Frog in the blue cast.
“He’s the yin to Toad’s yang,” Schneider says. “He’s very much the optimist, always seeing the bright side. If something went wrong, he still says, ‘Hey, we had a fun time doing it, so it was still a good idea.’”
Rachel Karlin, 18, of Suffern, plays Toad to Schneider’s Frog.
“The lines are simplistic, but the emotions are right there,”?Karlin says. “They say what they’re feeling, which is a great message for little kids, and what the books are really about.”
“My young cousins are reading the books now and they’re excited to come to see the show,” Karlin says. “They like the story ‘Toad looks funny in a bathing suit.’”
Patrick Gambuti III, of Old Tappan, N.J., plays Toad in the red cast.
“Toad is a nervous wreck and high-strung. Everything gets to me,” he says. “It’s kind of like I am in real life.”
Jenna Sachs, 17, from Suffern, plays Frog to Gambuti’s Toad.
“They’re an excellent contrast,” she says. “They keep each other in check and balance each other out nicely.”
The music is difficult, says the actress, who played Cosette in Suffern High School’s production of “Les Miserables” earlier this spring. The ride from Suffern to rehearsals in Tappan and performances in Nyack “is a schlep and a half, but this is my home,” she says. “This is where the magic is.”
Lindsey Sherman, 17, was Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” at Stage Left last year. This year, she’s Snail.
“This is such a fun role and so silly,” she says. “It takes Snail an entire year to deliver one letter.”
Sam Weinstein shares the role of Snail, and happens to be Sherman’s best friend.
Weinstein has been with Stage Left as long as there has been a Stage Left: This marks her 11th mainstage show. She says the song “I’m Coming Out of My Shell” is a case of art imitating life.
“When I started here, I was so shy that I’d cry all the time, but now I’m really outgoing,” says the bubbly Weinstein who talks much faster than any Snail has a right to.
“A Year with Frog and Toad”
When: 7 p.m., May 7, 14; 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 8, 15; 1 p.m., May 9, 16.
Where: Stage Left Children’s Theater, Ritterhausen Auditorium at the Old Nyack High School, 131 N. Midland Ave., Nyack
Tickets: $15; $12 seniors and those 12 and under
Top photos by Mark Vergari: Jenna Sachs of Suffern (Frog) and Patrick Gambuti III of Tappan (Toad); Rachel Karlin of Suffern (Toad) and Mitchell Schneider of New City (Frog); Sam Weinstein (Snail).
Bottom photo by Rob Levine: The 2003 Broadway production of “A Year With Frog & Toad” featured Mark Linn-Baker, front, asToad and Jay Goede as Frog.