On the ESBI scale, the season-opening “A Year with Frog and Toad” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte gets pretty close to 100. The Elementary School Butt Index reliably indicates how kids enjoy a show, especially one lasting 90 minutes without intermission. If potentially jittery derrieres stay still, you have a winner.
Such a running time for a play aimed at ages 3 to 10 tells you “F&T” must be something unusual. This musical based on Arnold Lobel’s books opened on Broadway in 2003 and earned Tony nominations for musical, book and score. (“Hairspray” cleaned up that year.) You’d expect such a piece to amuse adults as well as kids, and it does.
I heard almost no movement at Thursday’s school performance, save for a boy behind me who urged an overconfident snail “Get it there already!” as she delivered a belated letter. The kids and I were taken with easily flustered Toad (Ashby Blakely) and placid Frog (Mark Sutton), a balance of id and ego.
Frog plans ahead, urges patience, feels comfortable alone. Toad wants instant gratification; he’s self-conscious and timid, though Frog’s lateness on a visit – maybe wolves are chasing him! – sets Toad off to “rescue” him.
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The rest of the cast consists of the snail (Nicia Carla) and a trio (Lucianne Hamilton, Deon Lee and Danielle Rhea) who play mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds. I laughed as they sang “Let’s tweet about spring”; that had a different meaning 13 years ago, though “snail mail” was well-established. Director/choreographer Ron Chisholm exploits the old-fashioned flavor of the songs by Robert and Willie Reale with moves dating back to the Charleston.
Courtney Scott’s clever costumes are both whimsical for the chorus and down-to-pond for Frog and Toad. Jim Gloster beautifully balances huge, fantastical elements on the backdrops (seen as our heroes might see them) and an onstage set scaled down to the characters. It’s good to see Gloster, thrice nominated for Emmys for designing the TV show “Veep,” still working in the town where he landed three decades ago.
The show is so opulent that a butterfly flits across the stage solely to show off gauzy wings, never speaking. “That’s not right,” said the boy behind me. “She’s out at night. She has to be a moth!” Only sharp shows keep sharp minds engaged, and “Frog & Toad” succeeds.
‘A Year with Frog and Toad’
When: Through Oct. 16, generally at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Sensory-friendly performance Oct. 9; ASL performance Oct. 15.
Where: ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St.
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.