Replay: ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’ is Absolutely Ribbeting

With whimsical winds and facetious forest friends, the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad” is a family favorite for writer Catherine Meyer.

To earn the Meyer surname, loving the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad” is critical. As a kid, I collaborated with cousins and siblings in our Cousin Club to produce our own version of the show. At family gatherings, we charged 25 cents a ticket — no family discount.

The musical, written by brothers Robert and Willie Reale, is based on the “Frog and Toad” children’s stories by Arnold Lobel. The show opened on Broadway in 2003, starring Jay Goede as Frog and Mark Linn-Baker as Toad. 

As the name suggests, “A Year with Frog and Toad” follows the adventures of the titular characters over the course of one year — beginning and ending with the spring equinox. 

The five-character cast includes Frog and Toad’s woodland friends. Kate Reinders, Danielle Ferland and Frank Vlastnik each take on five different roles for the show — from a trio of condescending birds to Vlastnik as a mail carrier snail convinced he has super speed. 

Frog and Toad are described as the best of friends, though some believe them to be lovers. In 1974, Lobel came out as gay, but he never publicly discussed a connection between the books and his sexuality, according to The New Yorker.

The titular track begins with the Birds, who detail their migratory return for spring. They introduce Frog and Toad to the audience, who are just waking up from hibernation. The amphibious duo honor each other with high praise, introducing an elementary-aged me to some 10-dollar words.

“Frog is very kindly in his nature / Magnanimous whenever playing host / Of all the creatures in my sphere of influence, I’m fondest of the frog the most,” Toad sings. 

In the third track “It’s Spring,” Toad has trouble waking up in April from his hibernation slumber. He asks Frog to wake him up in May — to which Frog rips off calendar pages to make it so. 

A soft background of wind instruments creates a whimsical spring atmosphere, while a brass trill mimics buzzy bees. 

“The Letter” is followed by two reprises in the show. All three songs follow Snail, a mail carrier delivering a letter from Frog to Toad. Snail describes to the audience the sheer speed at which he’s traveling — which is contrasted by a humorously slow stride across the stage.

“No snail has feet more fleet-a / Why, I’m practically a cheetah / I put the go in escargot,” Snail sings. 

All “The Letter” songs incorporate quick instrumentals, including the rapid strumming of a guitar, punchy brass notes and the snappy whistle of a flute.

In “Getta Loada Toad,” Toad refuses to get out of the pond because he fears he looks funny in his one-piece bathing suit. The lively notes of a banjo and percussion ensemble create an impish tone to the song as the jeering calls of Turtle, Mouse and Lizard pull Toad back onto shore for ridicule. 

As the youngest member of the Cousin Club, I was always given the role of squeaky-voiced Mouse.

I’ve come to appreciate Frog’s soliloquy “Alone” more as I’ve grown older. The combination of string, piano and woodwind create a powerfully rich, smooth song. But as a slow song of introspective meditation and gratefulness, it hadn’t interested me as a child.

“Sometimes the days, they can be very busy / So I like to stop and think now and then / I think of the reasons I have to be happy / And that makes me happy all over again,” Frog sings.

In “He’ll Never Know,” Frog and Toad plan to surprise each other by raking each others’ lawns. But after they leave, the Squirrels mess up their leaf piles. The song ends with Frog and Toad stating they’ll rake their own leaves the next day. 

Using the verve of percussion and brass, the song creates a wonderful tempo for listeners to sway their hips to as they pretend to do yard work. 

My go-to party trick as a child was to perform “Shivers,” a scary story told by Frog about his childhood. A rather macabre choice of mine — but I had always been an odd child.

In his tale, Frog describes getting lost in the woods with his parents. They leave him in search of a way home, and Young Frog is confronted by the Large and Terrible Frog who wants to eat him. But Young Frog tricks him and runs until he finds his parents in a glen. 

In my depiction of the song, words were often mispronounced. Young Frog’s “And I bet that it hurts being chewed” became “And I bet it hurts being too’ed.” 

A jazzy blend of piano, drum and brass accompanies my personal favorite, “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.” In this track, Snail details a life of debilitating doubt and timidity but gleefully proves his haters wrong by belting out lyrics about his newfound confidence. 

“They said I wasn’t fast enough / They said, ‘Hey, you’re too gooey!’ / But then I turned around and told them, ‘Phooey! That’s all hooey!’” Snail sings.

In my family, “Merry Almost Christmas” is played on repeat during the holiday season. Including well wishes for both Christmas and New Year’s Day, Frog and Toad express love and gratitude for each other.

“I’ll be with you every Christmas / We both know that’s understood / Many, many nights like this one / If we’re lucky, knock on wood,” Frog sings. 

The musical concludes with a classically-named “Finale,” which brings the show full-circle as it announces the coming of spring yet again. 

“So let’s begin another year / A year with Frog and Toad,” the Birds sing to end the show.

“A Year with Frog and Toad” is available to stream on all major platforms.

Featured illustration by Catherine Meyer / The Phoenix

Catherine Meyer

Catherine Meyer

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