Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"A Year with Frog and Toad" Set to Open This Friday

Posted by Bruce Miller
Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV have been working in official strategic collaboration since July 1, 2001--just over ten years. While some may think of us as one company--both nonprofits have spent over a decade sharing a common staff--in several important ways our two theatres have maintained their individual identities throughout every day of the last 124 months. Barksdale and Theatre IV continue to operate with separate missions, Boards, seasons, budgets, assets, audits, development campaigns, and brands.

In some ways, it's hard to believe that our two theatres have been in courtship mode for over a decade and we've yet to bring our two theatres together. Chalk it up to devotion and commitment. In reality, the powers that be at Barksdale are so strongly in love with their legacy and mission to adult audiences, and the powers that be at Theatre IV are so completely dedicated to their legacy and mission to children, families and schools, everyone is still trying to find the right way and time to come together.

If and when the engagement is formally announced and the date of the wedding is set, "we" will be a new company with an unsurpassed commitment to adult audiences and an equally strong dedication to kids and education. If you look closely at nonprofit theatres around the nation, that profile is amazingly rare.

Our next demonstration of our belief in children, families and schools opens this Friday at Willow Lawn. A Year with Frog and Toad is itself unique, in that it was the first all-out children's theatre musical to be produced on Broadway, based of course on one of America's favorite series of children's books.

Arnold Lobel (1933 - 1987), creator of the Frog and Toad series, was one of our nation's greatest children's book authors and illustrators. He wrote and illustrated 30 books (two published posthumously), and illustrated an additional 42 books by other authors. His works include the beloved Frog and Toad series (1970 - 1979), plus Owl at Home (1975), Mouse Soup (1977), Fables (1980, Caldecott Medal winner), and Ming Lo Moves the Mountain (1982).

Willie Reale, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical, is a playwright and lyricist who often works with his brother Robert. He is a major creative force behind the 2009 revival of The Electric Company on PBS. In 1981, he founded NYC's 52nd Street Project, a nonprofit that brought inner-city children together with professional theatre artists to create new work. In 1992, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship ("genius grant") for that accomplishment. In 2006, he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for his lyrics for Patience from the film of Dreamgirls.

Robert Reale, Willie's brother who created the music for A Year with Frog and Toad, is a composer with a long list of credits in film, TV and theatre, creating the original music heard on Good Morning America, Primetime, 20/20, and Inside Edition. In 2003, the Reale brothers received a Tony Award nomination for their score for A Year with Frog and Toad.

Arnold Lobel died when he was 54 years old, and his daughter, acclaimed scenic designer Adrianne Lobel, committed herself to extending the life of his work. She had graduated from the Yale School of Drama, where she studied with iconic designer Ming Cho Lee. While continuing her own career creating world-renowned sets for Arena Stage, the Guthrie Theatre, Houston Grand Opera, PBS Great Performances, and the Metropolitan Opera, she posthumously published the final two books in her father's beloved Frog and Toad series. She also commissioned the musical based on her father's characters. She designed the sets, basing her work on her father's original creations.

The musical was workshopped in 2000 at Vassar College, and later produced by the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. It transferred to Off-Broadway at the New Victory Theatre in 2002, playing to good reviews and sold-out houses.

A Year with Frog and Toad opened on Broadway on April 13, 2003. The show is credited with breaking new ground by bringing professional children's theatre to Broadway for the first time. It's success enabled the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis to become the first children's theatre in the nation to receive the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2003.

We hope you'll join us for this delightful show--truly a holiday treat for the whole family.

Richmond is blessed to host visits from touring productions of family shows like Wicked, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. We are equally blessed, and I believe this with all my heart, to be the home town of a major professional theatre that cares just as much about children and education as we do about national caliber productions for adults.

Using any and all criteria for excellence, The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite productions of the year last season. I'm really looking forward to spending some time this holiday season with some of the most lovable and cherished animals you'll find on any Virginia stage.

Hope to see you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

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