Artist Profile: Frog and Toad hop to it again at Neighborhood Playhouse

In 2012, Bellingham theater company The Neighborhood Playhouse produced “A Year with Frog and Toad,” a delightful adaptation of Arnold Lobel’s classic children’s story, written by Lobel’s daughter, Adrienne Lobel, under the direction of artistic director Lizanne Schader and starring the imitable Jim Lortz and Schader’s husband, Montana-born Jerry McGarity, in the starring roles.

McGarity plays Frog and Lortz plays Toad. The duo reprise their roles for two weekends beginning Saturday, Jan. 3, at Bellingham Theatre Guild. McGarity shares more about himself:

Question: What’s your personal connection to this production?

Answer: I was born and raised in Billings, attending the University of Montana in Missoula, where I met my good friend Jim Lortz, who plays Frog in this production.

After college, I acted with the Virginia City Players, the Missoula Children’s Theater and at the Guthrie in Minneapolis.

Q: What brought you to the Northwest?

A: In 1988, Linda Hartzell from Seattle Children’s Theatre asked me to come to Seattle for an audition, landing me in Seattle for the next 13 years.

When my wife, Lizanne, and I were looking for a great place to raise our two daughters, Bellingham naturally wound up at the top of the list: The water, the hills, the volcano on the eastern horizon. We moved here in 2001 and are still loving it.

Q: When did you first have an inkling that show biz was the life for you?

A: My second-grade class did a production of “The Legend of Johnny Appleseed” and I got to play Johnny’s guardian angel. I wore a big, white Santa Claus beard and a buckskin jacket, while throwing out a most convincing Southern accent (well, convincing for a second-grader!) and I stopped the show. All the parents were agog and I was hooked.

Q: Who were some of your mentors?

A: My first professional gig was in 1977 in Virginia City, Montana, with the Virginia City Players, directed by Judith Ferree. She was the greatest mentor I’ve ever had. A powerhouse of a performer, she took great joy in training and teaching her young performers.

My parents were my greatest supporters along the way and attended every show I ever did.

Q: What have been some of the highlights of your life so far, personally and professionally?

A: Personally, it was 26 years ago, when I discovered that hidden in the cast of my first show with SCT, “The Hoboken Chicken Emergency,” was Lizanne Schader, my future wife and partner in this great adventure. And what an adventure it has been! Our daughters are now 17 and 18 years old.

Professionally, I was cast in “Das Barbecu,” a wonderful new musical by Scott Warrender and Jim Luigs, in 1994, which I performed at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York City.

Q: How do you spend your time now?

A: I manage the events at the Squalicum Boathouse and the Bellingham Cruise Terminal for the Port of Bellingham. My day often goes from 7:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next morning, but it also allows me time to teach workshops in the schools and build sets for The Neighborhood Playhouse productions.

Q: What’s The Neighborhood Playhouse all about?

A: Our little children’s theater has taken root here (we are now in its 15th year) and has already grown such a following. This is quality, professional theater for children and their families – not children on stage – and it seems to touch every person who comes to see a show, be it “Go, Dog. Go!,” “Charlotte’s Web” or “Frog and Toad.”

It’s very exciting – now all we need is a home!

Q: Why are you and Jim doing it again?

A: When Lizanne asked Jim and me to recreate our roles from 2012, I don’t think either one of us skipped a beat before saying “yes!” We love acting together and this show, in particular, is so full of heart and playfulness that we can’t wait to share it again.

Q: What do you like about the play?

A: What I love most about this play is the friendship between Frog and Toad. Though the two are vastly different from each other, they have a wonderful understanding: There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. Toad really looks up to Frog, who feels like the big brother who has it all. Nothing makes Toad happier than just being around his best friend.

Q: Is there a suggested age limit?

A: The Neighborhood Playhouse gets babes in arms, as well as couples on dates. It’s truly theater for all ages!

Q: Anything special this time around?

A: Audiences who saw the show in 2012 will notice the quality of the set has been vastly improved. Our scenic designer, Mary Alyce Hare, brings such talent and knowledge of the guild’s space, which helped me build the pieces with more focus and artistry. Also the musicality of the cast, enhanced by our gifted musical director, Ashley Van Curler, will stand out. And the 5 p.m. show on Jan. 10 will be ASL-interpreted.

Q: What else do you enjoy about living here?

A: Our neighborhood (the Columbia neighborhood) has turned out to be the most wonderful community and there is so much beauty and music and friendship here that we may never leave. I enjoy taking walks with my chocolate Lab, brewing my own beer and making music with whoever is willing, be it our friend group, a cast, or my beautiful daughters, who are each so musically talented. And did I mention the volcano?