Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Making a Splash

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Making a Splash

Article excerpt

The Frogs provides a chance for Pittsburgh students to do a lesser-known work

When musical theatre students train for professional careers, it's important to get to know works by Stephen Sondheim, says Scott Wise. A professional choreographer and director, Wise is also an instructor at Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts in Pittsburgh. The conservatory program combines academic training and professional-level performance experience to prepare students for professional careers in musical theatre and theatre. Wise knows the Conservatory's graduates need to be ready to work in regional, touring and Broadway productions of Sondheim musicals.

"Sondheim is important in terms of training," he says. The problem, says Wise, is that not all Sondheim musicals are a comfortable fit for college performers. "Shows such as Company, Passion or Follies have characters who have lived a chunk of life. Their stories turn on older characters."

That's one of the reasons he leapt at the idea of including a production of The Frogs in the Conservatory Theatre Company of Point Park University's season. In February 2007 a company of 36 undergraduate students and a 10-piece orchestra performed a two-week run of the musical adaptation of Aristophanes' fifth-century B.C. comedy. They used the Burt Shevelove/Nathan Lane adaptation that played a brief Broadway run at Lincoln Center Theatre in 2004.

"I'm always looking for material that is age-appropriate or age-blind," Wise explains.

Unlike Bobby and his 30-something friends in Company or the middle-aged Fredrik and Desirée of A Light Night Music, the Greek god Dionysos and his slave Xanthias, the central characters of The Frogs, are mythological and ageless.

"Who knows how old they are?" Wise asks. Dionysus and Xanthias could well be young adventurers on a mission to save the world. The actors who played them - Dale Spollett, a junior musical theatre major from Boston, and Jordan Grubb, a junior musical theatre major from Easton, Pa. - enjoyed their own adventure into the world of Sondheim.

"It's the most wonderful challenge I've ever had to rise to meet. It forces me to go in directions I've never had to go before and may never go again," says Spollett, who played Dionysos.

"It's so smart. Every word, breath, note is there for a reason," he adds. "It forces you to pay attention. It makes everything you have to do after feel easier. It's one of those shows you can work on and every time you find something new or hilarious, such as a little comic beat that will make everybody crack up. …

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