The cheery musical is about two friends named Frog and Toad.
"But I like to think of it as the Brent and Joel story," says Brent Moser, one of the title characters in StageWorks Fresno's new production of "A Year With Frog and Toad."
In Willie Reale's adaptation of the children's series of books by Arnold Lobel, the central premise is friendship. Frog, played by Moser, is a calm, cheerful creature. Toad, on the other hand, played by Joel Abels, is more manic and fussy -- even neurotic.
Yet despite their differences, Frog and Toad remain stalwart companions. There's a special bond between them as they cycle through the never-ending march of the seasons. They're the type of friends who can go for a while without talking with each other -- hibernation, anyone? -- and then take up where they left off as if no time had passed.
You can say the same for Moser and Abels, who have known each other for 28 years. They met in the spring of 1984 while both attending Clovis West High School -- on the stage, which seems appropriate considering how theater went on to become a big part of each of their lives. Abels played Mr. McAfee and Moser played Albert in a production of "Bye Bye Birdie."
Though Abels, then a sophomore, moved on to Roosevelt's School of the Arts the following school year, the friendship stuck. Both would go on to become high-school theater teachers, with some detours along the way. (Moser actually had his locker, pads and a spot on Fresno City College's football team before telling the coach he was quitting in order to accept a role at Good Company Players. The coach was not happy.)
Abels founded Children's Musical Theaterworks, then pursued a career as a professional actor in New York before returning to Fresno to launch StageWorks, while Moser moved into an arts administration position.
But even across distance and the years, the two remained close.
"Frog and Toad have a huge amount of trust in each other," Moser says, sitting in a dressing room at the California Arts Academy Severance Theatre. "There are not a lot of people in the world I trust more than Joel."
For his part, Abels says he's often relied on Moser for advice, whether life goals or a current theater project.
"I've often gone to Brent when I need another set of eyes," Abels says. "He has a way of putting things in perspective."
One perspective both hope audiences will take in regards to the show is that while it's based on children's books, it has appeal for adults as well.
The musical riffs on such themes as trust, friendship, patience and risks.
"To me, these life lessons hit home for a 5-year-old and a 35-year-old," Moser says.
"I would hate for adults to stay away because they perceive it to be a kiddie show," Abels adds.
"Frog and Toad" is directed by J. Daniel Herring. The cast also features Fresno-area theater veterans Amalie Larsen Van Vleet, Codi Bianchi and Hayley Galbraith, who play a variety of other creatures in Frog and Toad's lives. (Try a snail, for one.) It's a dream cast, Moser says.
Believe it or not, for all their theater history, this is only the second show he and Abels have acted in together. First "Bye Bye Birdie," now this. (They've both directed each other in the past.)
Do they think the casting could be reversed -- could the more mellow Moser play Toad, say, and the more hyper Abels play Frog?
"No," Moser says quickly.
"He doesn't have the energy," Abels says with a smile.
Two chums sassing each other -- it doesn't get more "old friends" than that.
"A Year With Frog and Toad," Friday-Dec. 16, Severance Theatre, 1401 N. Wishon Ave. stageworksfresno.org, (559) 289-6622. $23.50, $18.50 students and seniors, $14 children.