Magazine article The Sondheim Review

A Mirthful Spin

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

A Mirthful Spin

Article excerpt

Cleveland staging offered fine singing in a soggy Frogs

Forty years ago does not qualify as ancient history, but it seems like ages since The Frogs first frolicked in the swimming pool at Yale University in May 1974. The show did so in a one-act version by Burt Shevelove with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, "freely adapted" from Aristophanes' comedy. Three decades later in 2004 the show ventured to New York City's Lincoln Center in a two-act incarnation "even more freely adapted" by Nathan Lane (also the production's star as Dionysos) and containing seven new Sondheim songs.

That brings us to 2014 when the Lane expansion of The Frogs took up residence at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, Ohio (July 31-Aug. 17). Martin Friedman, who has directed a dozen Sondheim works in recent decades, staged the production. The piece remains an amiable and problematic entertainment. Early in the show, the actor who becomes Dionysos admits, "There's not an awful lot" of plot, though he doesn't mention the windy dialogue and worn-out one-liners, of which there are an "awful lot." This might be the principal reason why The Frogs hasn't developed legs as a theatrical vehicle, which is a shame considering the wealth of Sondheim delights packed into what is a soggy, padded show.

The Cain Park staging valiantly put some semblance of a mirthful spin on the work, thrusting Aristophanes' ancient Greek (405 B.C.) satire on war, complacency and the importance of the arts into the modern era. Friedman underscored contemporary aspects of the narrative by placing his cast in 21st-century dress much of the time, an attempt at currency that blurred the metaphors. The eponymous frogs, representing all that is conservative and clueless, were menacing bureaucrats in sunglasses and dark suits. Dionysos came across as a drugged-out hippy with just enough lucidity to care deeply about the ills of society and a desire to do something about it. His solution: journey to Hades to bring back a writer who once again might share enlightenment with the world.

Given the input of Shevelove and Sondheim in an ancient setting, you might have thought you'd wandered into a befuddled production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Gain Park's Alma Theater. Ron NewelPs scenery looked like something for that 1962 masterstroke, with the addition of an apron of gurgling water and rocks to provide the way from Athens to Hades. Friedman failed to raise the humor to inspired heights, but he often kept the goings-on in cheeky forward motion, with vibrant assistance from choreographer Martin Céspedes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.