NEXT WEEK, for a record third season, the Arden Theatre opens its curtains on the children's classic A Year with Frog and Toad. No other play or, in this case, Broadway musical, has graced the Arden's stage as often.

Moreover, the same actors who starred as the Odd Couple-esque amphibians in the first two seasons are back for a theatrical hat trick. Jeff Coon plays rational optimist Frog. Ben Dibble plays fretful curmudgeon Toad.

Toad is homely, grumpy, worried - nothing like the man who plays him.

Dibble, a Malvern dad of three and Cub Scout leader, tells Lauren McCutcheon how he relates to his unlikely character, how parenthood and time have changed his thinking, and how author Arnold Lobel's 40-something-year-old kids' story feels more relevant than ever for us grown-ups.

Q So, what's the difference between a frog and a toad?

My memory is that all toads are frogs. But not all frogs are toads. Toads are wartier and often darker in color and can live in dry areas. Frogs are always associated with living near some water source and tend to be greener and smooth-skinned.

Toads are the uglier ones.

Q And that's what you play, a toad - or Toad?

From the first time we performed it, Jeff has been Frog and I have been Toad. In my life, I'm actually the Frog to many people. I'm more the glass is half full and everything will work out.

Growing up, I was the younger brother in a family of mostly women: I totally get Toad's sense of despair and nothing will go right.

Q Not offended. You've done this before. Do you even need to read the script?

Jeff and I have done over 100 performances as Frog and Toad. This is a well-trod swamp for us.

It's been eight years, almost, since the last time we did this. We have three new cast members playing the birds and the moles and the other various animals in the show. We need to refresh ourselves and fold in the new cast members.

We're much older than when we did it the last time.

Q How is age a factor?

The first time we did it, neither Jeff nor I had kids. The second time we did the show, we had five kids between us that were 5 and under. Now, our kids are all between 8 and 10. They've all read the books.

Jeff and I said there are two things that are really important in order for us to take on this piece again. Number one: We had to make sure our children are able to see it a few times.

Q And the second demand?

We're going to have to look at the staging before we can tackle it again. When I watch the little clip from the previous production, I don't know if my body can do those things anymore.

We are hoping we both have the physical endurance we did a little while ago. My heart is ready. But my body says to be patient.

Q Aside from your families, whom are you looking forward to in the audience?

One thing we realized early on in one of the runs was that the best performances were when the Philadelphia Department of Recreation would buy a bunch of tickets and give them to inner-city schools, to kids who hadn't seen a lot of theater.

Those were the most exciting performances because the entire audience was talking back to the characters. They would shout, or they would cry. They were right there with us.

Q Why do you think the Arden has done this show so much?

The story is pretty universal. It's about two friends who have adventures together. They fight and they're apart and they make up.

It's about cultivating enthusiasm, cultivating joy. The simplest activities can be full of joy and full of enthusiasm. Life is not about the bigger ambitions. It's about the moments you find joy and comfort in.

"A Year with Frog and Toad," Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St., Wednesday to Jan. 29, $20-$36, 215-922-1122,