BUCKHANNON — The beloved stories of Frog and Toad, as told by Arnold Lobel, come to life this week in a family-friendly musical on stage at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” is a musical adaption of some of Lobel’s books that has been performed on Broadway and was nominated for three Tony Awards. Now the college’s departments of theatre, dance and music are producing the musical for a Homecoming event that will appeal to people of all ages.
Tommy Schoffler, associate professor of theatre arts, said the suggestion for the show came from musical director Dr. R. Daniel Hughes who had seen it performed. Schoffler had also seen it in some form – it is often done by high schools for competitions.
Because it was the theatre department’s turn to provide Homecoming entertainment this year, the two thought it would make a good family-style show.
Schoffler also portrays Frog in the show which is rounded out by students Aaron Harris, of Anmoore, playing Toad; Dominick Gray of Bell as lizard, snail and bird; Pippa McGinley, of Morgantown; as Father Frog, squirrel, mole and bird; Elizabeth Mearns of Nutter Fort as mouse, mole, Mother Frog and bird and Sinead Torbin, of Fairmont as turtle, mole, young frog and bird. M. Eric Jett, Wesleyan’s director of Strength and Conditioning is Large and Terrible Frog and a few other roles without speaking parts.
Jett acted in high school and thought “A Year with Frog and Toad” would give him another chance to try performing.
So far, the experience has been a fun one with the rest of the cast and crew.
“I start rehearsals with a smile on my face and I leave with a smile on my face,” he said. “I think the fact that they are having fun up there doing this is going to show through to the audience.”
Schoffler said he has learned that several of the cast enjoyed the Frog and Toad series of books.
“I know they are really important to a part of the people,” he said. “I think that is really cool.”
Lobel’s daughter, a theatre set designer, commissioned the musical based on her father’s books after he passed away.
Of note, is that Lobel was once asked which character he was the most like to which he replied he was a little of both, according to Schoffler.
Jett sees the story of the two opposites being friends as a good story line.
“The friendship between such a dour individual like Toad and chipper individual like Frog doesn’t seem to work, but Lobel just made it work,” he said. “Toad has a good heart.”
The chance for the students to learn from some guest artists in the industry is another educational benefit to this performance, according to Schoffler.
Donald Laney, producing artistic director of the West Virginia Dance Company, is an adjunct professor at WVWC this semester teaching both tap and dance history courses.
“He is also choreographing the show and costuming the show,” Schoffler said. “We are really excited to have him.”
Guest artist R. Jonathan Shelley, a freelance designer from Richmond, Va., is introducing some lighting elements new to WVWC. For example, the show uses a lot of projections.
“It is nice for our students to get to work with professionals from outside the college,” Schoffler said.
At the same time, the students benefit from the musical direction of Hughes, as previously mentioned, and technical direction from WVWC’s director of technical theatre, Keith Saine.
Assistant stage manager Felicia Cochran is a freshman and one of her responsibilities is tracking props used in the performance.
“This musical has a lot of fun props,” she said.
Cochran said she was enjoying her role and hopes to run sound for productions in a future career.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot different than anything I did in high school,” she added.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” opens Thursday, Oct. 4 and Friday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors and $5 with WVWC ID. The box office opens an hour before showtime. The show runs about an hour and a half including intermission.
Due to Homecoming activities, the normal matinee performances have been moved to Monday, Oct. 8 at 8 a.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 9:30 a.m. and will be free, according to Schoffler.
Students have been invited from local elementary and preschools and families with kids are welcome to attend.