My series about U.S. regional theater takes us to Indiana today. In this Midwestern state, you’ll find Cardinal Stage, a dynamic, professional theater in the city of Bloomington. The company is bringing back a family favorite, A Year with Frog and Toad, which runs December 21 – January 2 in Cardinal’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
Based on the books of Arnold Lobel, the musical written by Robert Reale (music) and Wilie Reale (book and lyrics) follows the adventures of Frog (Stephan JoQuan Wilson) and Toad (Connor Starks). The creative team includes director Kate Galvin, choreographer Lauren Haughton, and music director Brandon Magid.
Kabir Gandhi plays Snail in the production. This year is Gandhi’s first with Cardinal Stage, which is celebrating its 15th season. Currently in his junior year at Indiana University (IU), he is pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre as well as a minor in Business. His theater credits include Urinetown, Grease, and Clue: On Stage at Okoboji Summer Theatre; and Threepenny Opera, Little Women, Crazy For You, and Hunchback of Notre Dame at IU Theatre.
I called Gandhi because he has a unique perspective to share about what young and emerging actors are experiencing as theaters reopen.
What’s exciting to you about being with this company?
It’s my first time working with Cardinal Stage. Because of the pandemic, we were all online last year. It’s been a brilliant return back to the stage and in-person theater for me. Seeing Kate, Brandon, and Lauren all work together to create this fun piece of art is really awesome. With theater for all ages, at first glance you can kind of think, “Oh, it’s like a kids show!”[However,] they put a lot of depth and thought into it. It’s fun on my side as an actor to be able to play with things and see that it speaks to all walks of life.
What’s it been like incorporating lessons from your university classes into your practical experience at the theater?
It’s really interesting because Lauren is my dance teacher at school, as well as my choreographer in this professional production. We learn so much in our class on musical theater dance styles: the genres of dance that made musical theater what it was. Cardinal’s Frog and Toad is being based on the concept of vaudeville. A lot things we learned this past semester are making an appearance in the rehearsal room and in the choreography on stage! I go to school from 10 to 6, then rehearsal from 7 to 10.
Frog and Toad is a fun story. Since we don’t want anyone to overlook Snail, what are his best qualities?
I love him because he is very determined. He’s passionate and kind to everyone. He is so silly. There are a lot of fun traits.
Snail’s task in the show is to deliver a letter. Do you remember the last letter you delivered?
I do. I didn’t hand-deliver it. I delivered it to a USPS mail box for my long trek. I recently responded to a wedding invitation.
You mentioned music earlier. What is Snail’s song in the show?
Snail has fun reprises where you see him trying as hard as he can to get this mail delivered. Once he does deliver it—little spoiler alert—he has a song called, “I’m Coming Out of My Shell.” He breaks it down to the audience, gets a little jazzy, and sings his heart out.
Frog and Toad’s music is so interesting, because while it is a theater-for-all-ages show, it is some of the hardest music I’ve ever worked on. The harmonies are intricate, jazzy, intense, and fun. It’s very awesome.
I like the themes in Frog and Toad, particularly friendship. What strikes you about this theme, especially right now as people try to reconnect?
The show starts off with these two best friends who come out of hibernation, which is akin to what’s going on with our world. We’re coming out of hibernation ourselves metaphorically. It’s nice to see them navigate the ins and outs of their crazy, critter lifestyles. Through the piece and at the end, they realize that they are truly there for each other. It’s heartwarming to see what that means for them as friends in their circumstances. It’s also cool because I’m in the show with three close friends of mine from IU. Whenever there’s a heartwarming moment, we turn to each other and smile.
What unique space does the creative team provide for you, so that you can be your best in rehearsals?
What’s particularly fascinating to me is Lauren, Kate, and Brandon all work together seamlessly. They are cooperative and collaborative with each other and with us. It’s a fun environment where you’re not afraid to ask questions. If you need help, you can speak up and say something. You can also tell that everyone is a professional and is there to bring joy to people. It’s awesome coming into a space where—particularly with Lauren and Kate—they are such strong women leaders. We need more of that.
Do you need to bring a different energy and vibe to a family show?
I think yes and no. We have to remember the things we are doing must be accessible to all of members of our audience. The kids can understand it, while the adults can understand the more intricate humor. On our side as the actors, we still have to approach every role with the same commitment. How do I motivate authentically and make sure I am being the most truthful Snail up there that I can possibly be? We want to make this the best show. Even though they are kids, if the show is bad, you can believe they will say something. We still do our hardest work out there for them.
What are your hopes as we work to rebuild the arts and reopen?
The arts really have been hit hard during this pandemic, especially in theater where the live component is essential. I’m truly hoping for these kids—it’s probably the first show that a lot of them are seeing out of this pandemic—that the show brings them that sense of inspiration that I feel when I see my peers or fellow actors perform. It’s a feeling of silly joy that maybe doesn’t even relate to your personal life, but you have the option to sit in the theater and watch these characters go through something that is heartwarming and tearjerking. It’s a chance to forget your woes. Kids can all use that.
What are you looking forward to getting under your belt as an actor when you reach senior year?
I’m looking forward to more opportunities like this. I had great opportunities to learn from the amazing professors at IU’s musical theatre program. As the world begins to open up and I get more experience in theater, it’s interesting to do as you were saying: to apply what I learned to these professional spaces. I’m looking forward to auditioning in person more. That also took a hit in this pandemic because we had to be safe. There’s something electric about being in a dance call or in an audition room that you can’t feel over Zoom.
Do you see yourself coming back to Cardinal Stage as a senior?
Oh, if they would have me, I would love to! It’s one of the best places I’ve ever worked at. They are truly kind. There’s a level of respect that everyone has for one another that is unique and cool to see.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Cardinal Stage website.