University Players & Scranton Cultural Center Partner on “A Year with Frog and Toad”
In April and May, The University of Scranton Players will present “A Year with Frog and Toad”, a musical based on Arnold Lobel’s classic children’s stories and first performed on Broadway in 2003. It is a timeless tale of friendship complete with an exhilarating score, which accompanies the amphibious Frog and Toad and an assortment of their friends.
Though not traditionally known for performances targeted to children, Director of the University’s Theatre Program Rich Larsen asserts that the University of Scranton Players always put forth a diverse season of offerings: “It’s important for the students to run the gamut of genres while they are in the program. We do challenging work, and are fortunate that we can do things that are esoteric. The students are invested; they know there’s more to this than filling seats.”
Through a unique partnership, performances will take place at both the University’s McDade Center for Literary and Performing Arts (April 27-29 and May 4-6) and at the Scranton Cultural Center (May 1-2) through the Times-Tribune Lunchbox Series.
The two actors playing Frog and Toad, Peter Alexander, a sophomore from Linden, N.J., and Claxton Rabb III, a freshman from Orange, N.J., have also been presenting excerpts of the musical at area libraries and schools. The Scranton Cultural Center and the University’s Office of Community Relations partnered to offer these presentations at Prescott Elementary School, Whittier Elementary School, Howard Gardner School for Discovery, St. Mary of Mount Carmel School, as well as the public libraries in Taylor and Valley View.
Collaboration with the Cultural Center is something that’s long been on Larsen’s mind. With his background in professional theatre, he understands the importance of arts in a community, especially one like Scranton that’s seen a recent shuttering of the local theatre company. Through discussions with the Cultural Center, Larsen was asked if he’d ever consider doing a children’s show and thus “A Year with Frog and Toad” came alive.
“We liked the idea of doing something not only for our students but for the kids in the community. This is our opportunity to help keep the arts alive,” Larsen stated. “Our theatre holds 300, the Cultural Center holds 1800 – we can invite area schoolchildren and the greater Scranton community to attend. The kids will be exposed to the theatre, learning that programs like ours exist.”
Larsen worked directly with Jessica Lucas, associate facility and technical director at the Cultural Center, and a graduate of the University. Lucas, like Larsen, believes that arts programs are critical to the community, and is committed to supporting that, especially through a long-term partnership with the University of Scranton’s Theatre Program.
“The Theatre Program at the University is near and dear to my heart. I started college at Loyola University in New Orleans and was transplanted due to Hurricane Katrina,” Lucas explains. “I chose to stay in Scranton because I was being exposed to an amazing caliber of artists and the program gave me such a well-rounded theatre experience.”
That experience led to her position at the Cultural Center, and to help facilitate this partnership. As for “A Year with Frog and Toad” she says that things are gearing up nicely: the crowds are coming in, the actors are excited to perform on a bigger stage, and the technical students are getting the opportunity to work directly with the local union.
Echoing how well the partnership has been going, Larsen says he’d love to see it continue for the sake of the arts in the community and the learning opportunities for the students. In addition, he knows it would be great exposure for the theatre program at the University in general.
“Ours is the little program that could,” said Larsen, who has served as director for the last 12 years. “The students have gone on to amazing graduate programs and continue to perform on all kinds of platforms. We do substantial work that has been compared to professional theatre. The courage of our program attracts talented and renowned guest artists and helps us get our name out there.”
Another connection between “A Year with Frog and Toad” and the Scranton community is Bob E. Gasper, the director. A Scranton native, Gasper has directed in New York City and many other cities, and is now back to lend his expertise to the University and his hometown.
Ticket information for “A Year with Frog and Toad” can be found on The University Players website.
Click here to view a story and video about the musical in The Times Tribune.
Photo Credits: Top photo: Frog and Toad, Peter Alexander, and Claxton Rabb III, in front of the Scranton Cultural Center (Julie Jordan Photography); Middle Photo: Frog at Prescott Elementary School (Carol McDonald Photography); Bottom photo: Representatives of The University of Scranton Players and Office of Community Relations and Scranton Cultural Center (Julie Jordan Photography).