When Zach Marleau takes on the persona of an earnest little boy in the FLHS fall musical, you can almost read in his face what he’s thinking.
Many of the show’s humorous highlights happen because Marleau gets it just right: His facial expressions, tone of voice, movements and timing are exceptional.
In this play, based on a series of children’s books by American artist and author Arnold Lobel, Marleau (Toad) and his best friend (Frog) are together from the time they awake from hibernation in the spring until just after Christmas, when they hibernate again.
Amanda Hennen shines as Frog. Her happy disposition and cheerful outlook are matched by her energy and pleasant voice. Hennen’s high notes, sung in a rich, full tone, are worth waiting for.
The pair are joined by a talented cast of singers and dancers accompanied by a live orchestra.
Nate Brown is in his element. Brown, with Tasha Montzka and Alyssa Eggersgluss, play a trio of birds who appear throughout the show. The smile on his face may be part of the act but seems to indicate real pleasure in performing this role.
Brown’s precise movements are a joy to watch, even when he’s not dancing, and the trio sing and dance very well together.
There are two recurring themes in the series of vignettes. One is Toad not knowing the time, the result of a humorous clock-smashing incident early in the play. Another is a letter from Frog to Toad, which finally arrives at precisely the moment it is needed. But the delivery takes most of a year, because it is carried by a snail.
Teresa Mahnke plays the snail, and every time she appears on stage, Mahnke’s animated gait makes the audience laugh. In a voice as perky as her walk, she sings: “No snail has feet more fleet-ah. Why, I’m practically a cheetah! I put the ‘go’ in ‘escargot’!”
Her appearances are brief, but thankfully she keeps returning. Snail’s final solo is about coming out of her shell.
“There were slugs who doubted me. I guess that made me nervous. I never even dared to dream of life in civil service,” she sings.
Another character who contributes much is Kelsey Sarver, who plays Turtle. There’s really nothing turtle-like about her: Her dancing is sharp and smooth. Her costume, while green, is stylish. Unfortunately, she’s featured in just one number, but it’s a very satisfying one.
Jack Rudman has a good time playing the Large and Terrible Frog, who eats little bunnies dipped in dirt and likes frog children for dessert.
The Large and Terrible Frog story may be the best part of the show for young children. It’s scary, has rope skipping and involves quick thinking by a young frog heroine. Young Frog is played by Kayla Fuller, who has these lines: “I don’t wish to end up a meal. I think eating others is rude. And I bet that it hurts being chewed!”
The set is designed to show the seasons. Panels on the back wall, painted with scenery, are moved to create spring, summer, fall and winter. Giant cattails in front of the panels show that the story takes place near a pond. Frog and Toad each have a cozy one-room home. These are rotated depending on whether the exterior or interior is needed.
For physical humor, the scene with Toad trying to fly a kite is hard to top. Every time Marleau runs with the kite, it’s so wildly done that it looks like he will fall off the stage.
In other scenes Marleau jumps into a pond, or plays a tuba while standing on one leg. These moments are reason enough to see the show.
Sarver (Turtle), in the “Getta Loada Toad” number, provides one of the musical highlights. She is joined by Frog, Toad and 10 others in an exuberant classic jazz dance, with lots of Charlestons and “jazz hands.”
The musicians in the pit add much to the show. When clarinetist Emily Larson plays during a Toad monologue, it’s like a duet. The clarinet solo complements the words, reinforcing the emotions expressed.
The show opened on Oct. 25 and will run for one more weekend. There will be performances on 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.