Return to the list of articles

Theater company branches out with Broadway musical for all

David N. Dunkle of Patriot-News

Actors at Gamut Classic Theatre have been itching to sing and dance.

"A musical is something the ensemble has been asking to do for a long time," Gamut artistic director J. Clark Nicholson said.

The troupe, known for staging serious fare like "Henry V" as the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival and lighthearted children's plays such as "Jack and the Beanstalk" as the Popcorn Hat Players, is exploring new territory with the Broadway musical, "A Year with Frog and Toad."

"Frog and Toad" might be based on popular children's books by Arnold Lobel, but that doesn't mean only youngsters will enjoy it. Gamut is hoping to attract a crossover audience for the theater's first full-length musical.

"The music is very jazzy, very sophisticated," said Melissa Dunphy, who is part of the cast besides serving as Gamut's music director. "It's very '30s and '40s."

Dunphy has rounded up musicians from around the midstate to record the score. "Once they hear it, they all want to do it," she said. "A lot of them have said, 'This is great. Why haven't I heard of this before?'"

Nicholson, who is directing the production, said "Frog and Toad" sort of sneaked up on a lot of people.

The musical was premiered in Minneapolis, in 2002 by The Children's Theatre Company, then moved without a lot of fanfare to Broadway, where it became an unexpected hit and was nominated for three Tony awards.

Since being made available to regional theater, it has become one of the 10 most-produced shows in the nation.

Nicholson and his wife, Melissa, who is Gamut's executive director and also a member of the cast, took their daughter Carolina to see the play in New York in 2004.

The Nicholsons loved the play about the friendship of optimistic Frog and worrywart Toad, and decided it was a natural for Gamut.

"It's within our mission statement," said Clark Nicholson. "We've done Chekhov, and last year we did 'The Glass Menagerie.' We aren't going to suddenly jump out and do 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' but we are named Gamut, which is really about a range."

Rounding out the five-member cast are Sean Adams as Toad, Robert Campbell as Frog and Amber E. Wagner, who like Dunphy and Melissa Nicholson will portray several characters, particularly a slow-moving but very enthusiastic letter-carrier named Snail.

Clark Nicholson, who read the books when he was a child, said "A Year with Frog and Toad" tells a simple story of friendship that people of any age can relate to, spiced with clever lyrics and toe-tapping tunes written by brothers Robert and Willie Reale.

Troupe members hope adults will give "Frog and Toad" a try.

"If adults can't enjoy children's theater, then it's not very good," Adams said . "This is good."

Return to the top of the page