Magazine article The Sondheim Review

For the Frog in All of Us

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

For the Frog in All of Us

Article excerpt

The Frogs puts mythology to excellent comic use

Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove's musical adaptation of Aristophanes' comedy is rarely produced. Even diehard fans know it only as the answer to a Jeopardy question: "Sondheim musical originally performed in the Yale University swimming pool."

So freeFall, a small company in St. Petersburg, Fla., took a bold step simply by staging The Frogs for the company's debut in its new home, a black-box theatre in a former Christian Science church. The musical famously premiered in a 1974 production in the Yale pool, featuring several students who went on to bigger things: Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang.

Sondheim is dismissive of the show in Finishing the Hat, mainly using his commentary to settle an old score with critic and former Yale Rep director Robert Brustein. The original was pretty slight, with just seven songs. freeFall performed an expanded version including the six numbers added for Nathan Lane's 2004 Lincoln Center production.

Sondheim says Lane's longer version is padded. But it has an ending of sorts, which the original lacks. Still, the freeFall production came as a revelation for how entertaining The Frogs can be. The source material shares sensibility with another classically inspired Sondheim musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. What's more, the astringent sound of the score is vintage Sondheim. Several numbers are similar to Into the Woods, and many lyrics feature the charm and wit of his best writing.

Jorge Acosta starred as Dionysos, god of drama and wine, who is determined to resurrect a great playwright - George Bernard Shaw is his choice - from Hades to ancient Athens, which is mired in ennui and cynicism due to the endless, unwinnable Peloponnesian War. Before setting off on his quest, he offers the hilarious "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience": "Please don't cough,/It tends to throw the actors off./ ... Please don't fart,/There's very little air and this is art."

This inspired bit of silliness was the perfect opening number for freeFall's new home, and Acosta, though a rough and ready singer at best, has the theatrical savoir-faire to sell such a scene, of which The Frogs has many that turn the classics to excellent comic use. …

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