A children’s show for all ages
This year’s fall musical at Forest Lake Area High School is like a children’s book come to life. Literally.
The plot is based on a series by Arnold Lobel published in the 1970s: “Frog and Toad are Friends” (1970), “Frog and Toad Together” (1972), “Frog and Toad All Year” (1976) and “Days with Frog and Toad” (1979).
Lobel wrote and illustrated many stories for children. In 1981 he won the Caldecott Medal for “Fables,” recognized as the year’s best-illustrated U.S. picture book.
He also illustrated books for other authors, including Jack Prelutsky’s “Random House Book of Poetry for Children” and Jean van Leeuwen’s “Tales of Oliver Pig.”
His daughter, Adrianne Lobel, commissioned the musical. It was written by Willie Reale and his brother, composer Robert Reale. The show played on Broadway in 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical.
The show follows two best friends, perky Frog and less optimistic Toad, over the course of a year.
The friends are played by two high school juniors, theater veterans Amanda Hennen (Frog) and Zach Marleau (Toad).
Both had major roles last spring in the high school production of “You Can’t Take It with You.” Hennen played the mother, Penny Sycamore, and Marleau was Grandpa Martin Vanderhof.
Marleau has also starred as Oliver in a Masquers Theatre production of “Oliver” and as Joseph in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Youth Performing Arts. He was in “High School Musical” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” and sang in the barbershop quartet for “Music Man.” This summer he performed in “Hairspray” at Lyric Arts in Anoka.
Hennen was a narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” played Mama Noah in the Youth Performing Arts production of “Children of Eden,” and sang in the chorus for “High School Musical.”
Doing a children’s play is a new and different experience for the young actors. The dialog is not deep, yet this heart-warming story about the value of friendship has tender and serious moments. The jokes are made for kids and there’s lots of physical humor.
“In other shows you try to hold back from being cheesy,” Marleau said, “but here it’s hard to be cheesy enough.”
The costumes and props help, Hennen said, such as Toad’s swimsuit in the song “Getta Loada Toad” in Act I.
Marleau is featured in two songs: “Seeds,” a tender solo, and “Toad to the Rescue,” sung with the moles. Normally his character is rather timid, Marleau said, but when he thinks his friend Frog is in peril, he becomes a superhero, ready to save her from a wolf — using a frying pan!
In Hennen’s solo, “Alone,” she sings about appreciating the things she has.
The duo learned tap dancing for the song “He’ll Never Know.”
Marleau and Hennen encourage younger students to participate in high school theater. Rehearsals for the fall musical began Aug. 19, and as opening night nears, the evening rehearsals run from 3 to 9 p.m. Students learn to do their homework and take naps whenever they get a chance. But to them, the theater experience is worth it.
“This is what we love,” Hennen said.
Marleau agreed: “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Other main characters in “A Year with Frog and Toad” are the trio of birds, a soprano, alto and tenor. They are played by juniors Tasha Montzka and Nate Brown and sophomore Alyssa Eggersgluss.
The 19-member cast also includes Teresa Mahnke as Snail, Kelsey Sarver as Turtle, Bethany Lor as Mouse, Aryn Ritchie as Lizard, and Kayla Nelson, Cody Dusterhoft, Bri Flasch and Jack Rudman as frogs.
The show is directed by Craig Zimanske with musical direction by Alyssa Ellson. The pit orchestra director is Barry Zumwalde.
The show will be performed five times over two weekends at the FLAHS auditorium: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 1-3. The Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7 p.m. and the Sunday show at 2 p.m. All seats are general admission and cost $6 for adults and $4 for students or seniors. Children under 5 are admitted free. The show runs about 70 minutes.
Before opening night, the cast will perform one show for the district’s junior high students at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 25.