We were lucky enough to spend a few minutes with Charles Grant (Frog) and James Sharinghousen (Toad) before their rehearsal of A Year With Frog & Toad. We asked James and Charles about their roles in the play and what excites them about remounting the show. Below is the abridged version of the interview. Check out the audio for the expanded conversation!
OCT: James, so you were Toad in the 2013 production of A Year With Frog and Toad that won 7 Drammys. Why did you decide to be a part of the show again?
James Sharinghousen: There’s a small list of productions that I’ve done in my lifetime that I would — without hesitation — do again. Either the process was so amazing or the show, itself, was so amazing. [A Year With Frog and Toad] is right there at the top. Even after the show was done, I was like, “I wouldn’t mind remounting this in two weeks.” It’s a fun show...and it’s got so much heart, especially with OCT’s and Dani’s very intelligent casting. [Dani] knows how to find the different talents with different people, so it’s a pleasurable experience throughout the entire process. Everyone has great personalities, [and they’re] very talented.
OCT: Charles, you recently played Eddie in And in This Corner: Cassius Clay. Why did you want to be a part of A Year With Frog and Toad? What attracted you to the character, Frog?
Charles Grant: I think it was like a week or two into the rehearsal process for And in This Corner: Cassius Clay, and Dani approached me about auditioning. I was just like, “okay, there’s this show...I like working for OCT so far, so I’ll definitely audition.” Then I listened to the music, and I was like, “this is amazing.” I have found joy and pleasure in doing children’s theater, specifically with OCT. I haven’t done a lot of it, but...it’s just so amazing to get to do it for kids and adults alike, and to see families get...together and experience theater.
The character of Frog is just...so fun. I knew we’d be doing this show in a vaudeville style. I’ve never done a show in a stylistic way before. It has been very challenging, but…it’s fun to get to come to rehearsal to play and hop around. It’s such a talented cast. I’m literally laughing — and not pity laughs — these are genuine belly laughs every day in rehearsal.
OCT: What are you most excited about in this play?
JS: I get really tickled by the honest reactions that kids have. In many ways, the things that Frog and Toad go through are things that kids go through. There [are] kids that go crazy over cookies, or they’re afraid of thunder and lightning, or they have that one friend that’s just really awkward, but they love them anyways. Kids can identify with these characters, but at the same time, adults enjoy the style and the story line because they grew up with the books. So it’s cool to see the shine, the gleam, or the glow that people have after the show. It’s magical.
CG: It’s fun playing animals. We’re not full-on animals, so we’re not in deep squats the entire time. I’m really excited to get an audience full of children. In the room, people laugh, and that’s great, but to get to do it for kids [is so exciting].
OCT: How do you two identify with your characters, Frog and Toad?
CG: I think I identify with Frog in many ways. I’m a very caring person. I have a big heart, especially with the character of Toad who is just so all over the place. A lot of patience. A lot of care. I strive to have those things, so I think that’s one way.
Like in the songs, I love cookies. Frog is on the balance of, “let’s have cookies...wait, we shouldn’t eat them...let’s have cookies...wait, we really shouldn’t...let’s have…” Self-control is a thing. I think those are the ways I identify with Frog.
JS: [I identify with] the bullying aspects that a lot of the animals have towards Toad. I was bullied a lot when I was in elementary school. [In the show,] it’s one of the more endearing facts that Frog is always there for him. I had a friend that was just like that, so that’s how I identify on a deeper level.
OCT: What do you think kids should take out of the play? What lessons?
JS: So many. Gosh, if anything, there’s [being kind, empathetic, and] understanding.
You don’t have to be in love with someone to be friends with them. It doesn’t have to be a romantic thing. Of course, there might be that element for some friendships, but I know that in talking with kids after the show, there’s kids who identify with Toad because they feel like the awkward one or the one that’s really ugly. But there’s people who obviously care about them.
CG: I hope kids take...leading with love [as a lesson]. [James mentions] kindness, but I think Frog does that. Everything [Frog] does — even when he’s making fun of Toad — comes from love. There’s a little bit of bullying [in the show], but we come full-circle for all the characters, even the ones who bully [Toad].
OCT: In A Year With Frog and Toad, Frog and Toad spend each season doing different activities. So, what is your favorite season and seasonal activity? Why?
CG: My favorite season is spring. There’s something about spring that is just like so cleansing and it reminds me of renewal, and rebirth. The winter—especially in Portland—is so errrr...I’m from California, so when the sun comes out, I’m like, “yes.” There are just so many fun things you can do in the spring. But I also admire the fall. I think Fall's so beautiful, and I love watching the leaves change colors.
JS: Fall. 100 percent. Halloween is my favorite time of the year. The whole month of October. “Shivers” is one of my favorite scenes. [I love] the whole idea of friends sharing ghost stories. scaring each other and thrilling each other. There’s “He’ll Never Know,” which is [a scene where Frog and Toad are] trying to do something special for [each other] as a prank. Who hasn’t, at some point of their life, danced with a broom or a rake or something?
OCT: When we see the rehearsals, it looks like everyone is having a lot of fun. What’s your favorite part of the play?
CG: “Shivers.” There’s such a journey in that part of the show. It’s fun because I get to practice the care that Frog has for Toad, but I also get to mess with him and scare him a little bit. I get to be this ringmaster in a way. I also get to play the Large and Terrible Frog, and that part is just fun to be wild. It’s one of my favorite parts in the show, for sure.
JS: It changes. Sometimes, there’s more audience reaction to other parts, and that makes it more enjoyable for that part. There’s a moment where—spoiler alert—Frog writes a letter to Toad. That is pure heart right there. It’s one of my favorite moments because it shows the deep friendship that they have.
OCT: Anything else you’d like to add?
JS: Gosh, I don’t know, Frog. Do you have anything you’d like to add?
CG: I’m learning how to juggle, so that’s something I’d like to add.
JS: Yeah, you’re getting really good.
CG: I’m surprised that it hasn’t been that long of a rehearsal period, but I’m sort of doing it! The show allows all of us, in some aspect, [to develop] new skills. It’s really great as actors and human beings that this show is bringing us together and teaching us so much.
JS: Absolutely. Especially with the climate of the world where there’s so much negative energy out there, it’s nice to come into a space where there’s so much positive energy, support, care, and love, and then we get to share that with people. The show is only an hour or an hour and fifteen, so they get to come in and take this brief reprieve from all of this — whatever in the world — and they get to leave happy. We get to be a part of that. It’s wonderful.
A Year With Frog and Toad opens on May 5th. For more information, click here!