Frog, Toad, Elephant, Piggie and a Lump of Coal
’Tis the season. Especially for young people.
This is all the more true in the world of theater and performing arts. As usual, Tiny Tims, Scrooges, Sugarplum Fairies and princesses abound. But kids (and adults) might want to check out something beyond the usual holiday fare for delightful stories and inventive stagecraft.
For the Christmas holidays, we give you: “A Lump of Coal for Christmas,” a world premiere by Norman Allen, after a book by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), starring the gifted young actress Erin Weaver as a lump of coal. The show runs at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park through Dec. 31.
We give you: “A Year with Frog and Toad,” an Imagination Stage production of the hit Broadway and Tony-nominated musical about the adventures of the two best friends, running through Jan. 10.
We give you: “Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!” in the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater through Jan. 3.
You wouldn’t think that anything involving a lump of coal could be right in the wheelhouse of the spirit of Christmas, or that a work by Lemony Snicket, famous for his series of children’s books called “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” would warm seasonal hearts and cockles. And if you peruse the Snicket book titles, you might think you’re in for a dark ride. What could be happy about “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming,” “The Miserable Mill” or “The Vile Village”?
“A Lump of Coal for Christmas” may be off the well-worn holiday paths, but it has its own charms and inevitable rewards of joy. How can you go wrong with a lump of coal that wants to be an artist and helps turn “a child’s worst nightmare into a dream come true.” And that’s alive and pursuing its dreams with a series of adventures and encounters, including a very famous Christmas presence (if not present).
Norman Allen is the author, and Washington treasure and actress Holly Twyford is the director. Twyford has also performed at Adventure Theatre in “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” Wayne Chadwick is the music director, Deborah Wheatley does the sets and Frank Labovitz is the costume designer. Also in the cast are Elliott Kashner, Eric Messner, Sammy Strent, Rachel Hynes, Judith Ingber and Kevin Grieco.
“A Year with Frog and Toad” started out as a series of children’s books written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel and became a musical written by brothers Robert and Willie Reale. In 2003, after workshops and brief runs, it opened on Broadway and won a Tony nomination.
The charm of the musical and the books centers around the small, often funny adventures of woodland creatures, the main characters being Frog and Toad. When Frog learns that his best friend Toad doesn’t receive mail, he has a snail deliver a letter. The journey of the letter sparks adventures in which the friends “go swimming, fly a kite, bake cookies, tell scary stories, and go sledding down a steep hill.” Songs also ensue, including “Get a Load of Toad” and “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.”
Director Colin Hovde, who is producing director at Theater Alliance, calls it “a celebration of kindness and playfulness and, frankly, that is something that we can all stand to be reminded of these days.”
Jobari Parker-Namdar (Lyle the Crocodile) returns to Imagination Stage as the laid-back Frog, while Stephen Edwards Horst makes his debut here as the serious-minded Toad. The choreography is by Rachel Leigh Dolan and the music direction is by Deborah Jacobson.
In another friendship of opposites, there’s Elephant Gerald — slow, formally attired and said to be prone to melancholy — and his friend Piggie, who is, well, piggie-like: perky, always smiling and full of fun.
In “Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!” Elephant and Piggie are the best of friends in a musical romp that features such issues as how two friends play with one toy, what to wear to a fancy pool costume party and sharing (or not) your ice cream.
The show is based on a best-selling series of children’s books by Mo Willems. Joe Mallon as Elephant Gerald and Shayna Blass as Piggie. The “nutty backup singers” are called The Squirrelles. Commissioned by the Kennedy Center, the play has a script and lyrics by Willems, music by Deborah Wicks La Puma and choreography by Jessica Hartman. Jerry Whiddon directs.