'A Year with Frog and Toad' shines at UW-River Falls
November 12, 2018
“A Year with Frog and Toad” made its big debut on November 2nd at UW-River Falls, taking in stage the Blanche Davis Theatre which is located in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building. This musical was originally written by two brothers, Robert and Willie Reale, based on the children's books written by Arnold Lobel. The story follows two good friends, a happy-go-lucky frog, and a bad-tempered toad, through all four seasons. Along with Frog and Toad, there are some more eccentric friends like Snail, Turtle, the Birds, and more. Watching this quirky musical brought to light just how hard each and every character, director, and stage manager worked.
The lead role of frog is played by Mitchell Bugni, who has been acting since 2013 and is in his first returning semester at UWRF. The other lead role of toad is played by Nicklaus Churchill, who has been acting since he was only 8 years old. Bugni and Churchill look to be good friends on stage, so it is not a surprise that the friendship between the two lead roles continues off stage also. Mitchell Bugni said, “all of the actors got along great, and I have a really good relationship with toad.”
The characters are able to show this connection on stage. Frog and Toad danced together as if it was just natural! Not only did the characters connect with each other on stage, they also connected with the audience. Frog and Toad, along with all of the other characters like turtle, snail, the birds, the squirrels, etc. engage with the audience through their facial expressions. While singing and dancing, you can see the emotions on their faces that they are giving to the audience. The emotions are so tangible that even the audience could touch and feel them. When snail sang about his mail, the audience laughed with him and were excited with him. When Toad was grumpy and didn’t get out of bed, the audience related with him, curled back into the warm theater seats. None of this could have been accomplished, however, without the hard work during the rehearsals.
“Rehearsals started mainly with the music,” Mitchell Bugni talked of how the first half of rehearsals was largely based around the music, dancing, and singing, which makes sense considering it is a musical. Chuchill agreed with Bungi, also adding that rehearsals with Randal were super enjoyable. Churchill went on to explain that, “what made it so great for me, was our director, Randal. He was good with just letting us play. Which is a lot of fun because that means we just go on stage and do a scene and he just says, ‘try stuff’”.
This obvious regard for keeping the play “fun” is shown onstage. Children in the audience had smiles painted on their faces throughout the show, along with the adults. While walking into the theater on Saturday morning the energy was undeniable. The theater was packed with families and some college students, ready to see the play begin. Everybody was on the edge of their seats, observing the beautiful props that were set up and the live orchestra hard at work practicing in the pit for the play. The energy only continued to grow throughout the play. Randal talked about how the children understand the different aspects in the play, such as Toad being uncomfortable in his bathing suit, but adults are also able to relate with the separate lessons throughout the play.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” showed different conflicts throughout, such as Toad being unwilling to get out of bed in the morning, but then waking up refreshed and ready. Or friends helping each other out with raking their yards, or feeling self-conscious, and so on. All of these conflicts discussed in the play through music and movement provide children with some understanding. As Randal told me, “you have kids that go, ‘oh yeah, I get that. I know what that feels like’”, and these conflicts are things that adults also struggle with.
None of this would be able to happen, however, without Makayla Johnson, the stage manager, and all the others that helped out. Johnson started stage directing in high school and continued it when she made the decision to go to UW-River Falls. Johnson talked about how “having real people [the orchestra] performing in the pit changed the atmosphere.” It sure was a change in the atmosphere, the whole orchestra did an amazing job with the upbeat music, and they were able to work with the actors even though they weren’t on stage with them.
The atmosphere was amazing, just as Johnson had said, it provided every child, teenager, college student, and adult with valuable life lessons, and a fun environment to allow themselves to giggle and connect with those on stage. The entire team did an amazing job with the props, the music, the singing, dancing, and the acting. The reactions from the filled theater proved this. Leaving the theater after the play I heard multiple children go, “oh I just loved when Snail did his silly walk” and parents say to one another, “that was so great!”
Madelyn Markulics is a student at UW-River Falls.