There are elements I've come to expect from Olympia Family Theater: technical polish, figurative costumes, jokes for adults and, above all, an auditorium full of gleeful kids hopping in their seats. OFT and director Jenny Greenlee continue that reliable tradition with a reprise of A Year with Frog and Toad. I suppose the rules of disclosure oblige me to inform you Ms. Greenlee is my brother's girlfriend, but that didn't weigh in my assessment. The truth is it was hard to find anything to quibble about.
If the script has any drawback, it's that it doesn't have much of a plot. We begin in April as Frog and Toad - two members of class Amphibia, order Anura - awake from hibernation. We'll ignore the fact that most hibernating frogs do so underwater, which is awesome considering amphibians breathe air, and focus instead on the remarkable ability of some far northern frogs to freeze solid during winter months, then revive in the spring. Ah, science, how I adore you.
I should clarify this isn't one of those not-so-subtle "Tadpole Has Two Dads" stories. Unlike Bert and Ernie, two apparent adults who sleep in the same room but also raise pigeons, share a toy box and watch each other take baths, Frog and Toad are merely "the best of friends." The set design makes it unclear whether they live in the same house, but each has his own yard. They enjoy nightcaps and the outdoors. We learn they love baked goods in a blatant cookie commercial that probably does wonders for the Washington Center's concession business. Other than that, we check in with them every few months as they enjoy seasons and holidays. They learn such valuable life lessons as sledding is fun, no good deed goes unpunished and it's okay for all your friends to mock you in a scathing song and dance number if you don't look fantastic in swimwear. We finish on Dec. 24 with the "Ode to Joy"-sampling "Merry Almost Christmas" and "Finale." With some musicals, I amuse myself by pronouncing "finale" as "finally." This wasn't one of those times.
Of the two leads, the Hobbit-haired Steven Wells (Toad) was the more vibrant at Sunday's matinee, but Harrison Fry had charming moments as well. Robert Reale's songs are catchy and amusing, and played well by Josh Anderson and his seven-piece jazz combo. As often happens in children's theater, many scenes are stolen by secondary characters. I especially enjoyed Caitlin Obom's "Snail with the Mail" and Ted Ryle's hyponasal Father Frog. Meghan Goodman's role as Mouse was brief, but it was good to see her back on the boards again after some time away. And Katie Youngers provides a bit of welcome spectacle inside a Mark Gerth puppet, the Jabba-Lite "Large and Terrible Frog." Are there, in fact, cannibal frogs? You bet! Thanks again, Wikipedia!
Look, the bottom line here is according to the National Endowment for the Arts, attendance at straight (i.e., non-musical) plays is down 21 percent over the last 25 years; even musical attendance is down 10 percent. We're not going to raise those numbers by pursuing the senior audiences prevalent at community theater performances. OFT is fighting the good fight, introducing kids to live entertainment that reaches their level while almost never talking down. It aspires to be the Pixar of Olympia theater. A Year with Frog and Toad is just more of the same from OFT, and for once that's a good thing.
A Year with Frog and Toad
Through Oct. 17, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 7 p.m. Oct. 16, $8.50-$15.50
Washington Center, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
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