ON THE SCENE: Sondheim’s THE FROGS From MasterVoices, Back After 20 Years
We are blessed to be living in a time where one has the fortune of seeing a work by Stephen Sondheim on almost any night they choose. Currently on Broadway we have Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, plus Company, which is currently touring the nation. On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of seeing one of his rarely produced works, The Frogs.
Based on the Ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes of the same name, Sondheim and Burt Shevelove “freely adapted” this musical back in the early 1970s. The first production was performed by the Yale Repertory Theatre in one of the University’s swimming pools. For the following few decades, the show wasn’t produced all that often until a special concert production in May of 2000 starring Nathan Lane, Davis Gaines, and Brian Stokes Mitchell happened in Washington DC. From there, Lane got to work and began working on an adaptation for a Broadway production at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in 2004.
The musical comedy follows the Greek god Dionysus, and his trusty slave Xanthias, who journey to the Underworld to retrieve George Bernard Shaw, the renowned critic and playwright, who they hope to bring back to Earth to write and enlighten the world.
This past weekend, MasterVoices produced a concert staging directed and conducted by MasterVoices’ Artistic Director Ted Sperling. The all-star cast included Lane as the Host, Douglas Sills as Dionysus and Kevin Chamberlin as Xanthias. Peter Bartlett returned as Pluto after playing the role in 2004, Dylan Baker as George Bernard Shaw, Chuck Cooper as Charon, Marc Kudisch as Herakles, Jordan Donica as Shakespeare, and Candice Corbin as Ariadne.
The production was beautifully staged at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater with a 120-member chorus and an 18-piece orchestra. What a wonderful way to experience a rarely-seen gem in the Sondheim chest. Let’s hope it's not another 20 years before we see this quirky and witty musical back on the New York stage.