Weekender

Fuse Productions presents children’s musical about the gift of friendship

From left: Will Snyder, Jeremy Edelstein, Madeline Biever, Ashley Moore and James McCready perform “A Year With Frog and Toad” in 2013.
From left: Will Snyder, Jeremy Edelstein, Madeline Biever, Ashley Moore and James McCready perform “A Year With Frog and Toad” in 2013. Photo provided

After a successful 2013 local presentation of this delightful hourlong musical adaption, Fuse Productions will once again present Robert and Willie Reale’s children’s musical “A Year With Frog and Toad,” based on the popular books by Arnold Lobel.

A public performance will be given at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and school matinees will be performed at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. All performances will be held at The State Theatre.

The production is directed by Richard Biever and choreographed by Jill Brighton. It features an all-local cast: William Snyder, James McCready, Madeline Biever, Justin Shondeck and Clara Hanahan. The show originally ran on Broadway in 2003.

“A Year With Frog and Toad” is a unique piece that is geared for children. The show takes place during an entire year — spring, summer, fall and winter — and chronicles the deep friendship between Frog and Toad.

Perfect for the entire family, the show is “especially loved by children pre-K through third grade,” Fuse Productions Producing Artistic Director Richard Biever said. “This is a revival of our 2013 production, which was a huge hit with audiences both young and old.”

“I was able to be in it then, so my preparation for this was pretty easy,” said Madeline Biever, who is part of a three-person ensemble and plays several animals who help tell the story: a bird, a mouse, a squirrel and a mole. “But as a cast, we’ve been rehearsing for about three weeks and working hard. There are a lot of dance steps to learn and perfect.”

Waking from hibernation in the spring, Frog and Toad plant gardens, swim, rake leaves, go sledding and learn life lessons along the way. The two best friends celebrate and rejoice in the differences that make them unique and special. Part vaudeville, part make believe, all charm, “A Year With Frog And Toad” tells the story of a friendship that endures throughout the seasons.

“Frog is the spry one of the pair — up early in the spring, raring to go, willing to risk and thoroughly enjoys life with his best pal, Toad,” said Snyder, who plays Frog.

Snyder is the father of four children, and when he learned that the schools were going to have field trips to see the show, it sealed the deal for him to commit the time and effort around work and other schedules to make it happen.

“It’s not often that you can get a couple hundred 5- to 8-year-olds to be still and pay attention to live theater,” Snyder said. “My sons’ peers might see us at the supermarket and remember Snail and his silly walk, Turtle and her jeering dance, or Toad and his funny bathing suit. It makes theater and live entertainment something accessible for them.”

“It was fun to make the show visually interesting yet keep the simplicity of the story,” Richard said. “The set consists of the homes of Frog and Toad, and we can see the inside and outside of those homes. Julie Snyder’s costumes are wonderful — period appropriate to the early 1900s. And Frog and Toad are costumed like humans, yet they give a hint to their amphibian side, too.”

“It’s a very sweet, funny and actually very challenging show,” Madeline said. “If you’re going to do children’s theater, I think it’s important that the shows aren’t talking down to children, but that they’re fast paced and funny and hold their attention, which this show does perfectly.”

“The original stories are written with such beautiful delicacy, humor, and deep emotion while remaining simple and clear,” Richard said. “The stage musical is able to retain all that is wonderful about the books and keep the story moving along for young children, which is an amazing feat.”

For Snyder, one word comes to mind when he thinks about the show — friendship. “While I imagine most of the 5- to 8-year-olds will remember the silly songs, or funny dances or cookies — lots of cookies — the show harks back to the joy of life with a good friend,” he said. “The ups, the downs, the misunderstandings and the forgiveness, all ultimately point to the solidity found in friendship.”

“Friendships are not always easy to maintain because sometimes one friend has to give up what they want to help the other,” Richard said. “But it’s always worth it.”

Fuse Productions had the good fortune of experiencing how audiences responded in 2013, and it was beyond what any of them expected.

“Children were completely engaged from beginning to end, and the adults enjoyed it as much or more than the children,” Richard said.

“Art, be it theater, dance, music or visual, has a way of evoking memory,” Snyder said. “It stimulates our experience, and this show will do that, reminding people of their childhood fondness of their friends and those who were and hopefully still are a part of their lives.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: “A Year With Frog and Toad”
  • When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: thestatetheatre.org
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