Stephen Sondheim’s Musical The Frogs, adapted by Nathan Lane is now playing at Jermyn Street Theatre
Freely adapted by Burt Shevelove from the original Aristophanes play, and even more adapted by Nathan Lane – The Frogs had a short Broadway run in 2004 and confronted political issues and how society handles them. Now Nathan Lane and Stephen Sondheim’s hopping mad musical makes its UK premier in the West End at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
The time is the present and the place is Ancient Greece, Dionysos, the Greek God of Drama (played by Michael Matus) and his slave Xanthias (George Rae) decide the only way to help solve the issues in society is to bring back to life George Bernard Shaw and therefore must go on a quest to Hades to find him.
We are introduced to the production with caution, noted to “please don’t cough” or fart throughout the remainder of the show as the Gods of Theatre look down on us. I particularly enjoyed the references to poor theatre etiquette in several parts of the show… As I am sure that everyone can relate to experience of very poor audience behavior in recent times.
Moving on to the rest of the show…it’s a fairly unusual piece. It’s not often at all that we are met with musicals that were originally written in 405.b.c. In just the past year the world has been part of one of the most historic political movements in history, and the piece rightly illustrates the importance of standing up to our world leaders in the hope that our future is safe for everyone. The production has obviously been modernized, the one liners are funny but sort of came off as ‘Dad jokes’ and a little bit cringe. However the script is also very playful and in some places very witty.
The small ensemble all have gold painted on one side of their face and wear various black items with extra props and costume that are added for different scenes. The space itself is quite small. The band are seated on stage behind pipes, this scaffolding theme is also part of the set that the actors use to climb off and on throughout the show. Although this gives the actors different levels, it really limits the space for choreography or any big movement. The scene in which Dionysos is captured by the frogs is set downstage but the struggle and fight just becomes a little awkward as the actors try to avoid hitting the front row or trip over any of the set behind them. The set seems unnecessary for such a small venue and an ambitious show.
The score is playful and the songs fit nicely into the piece; although probably not Sondheim’s best work- the songs are both clever and amusing. They are performed charmingly by the cast who all have excellent voices. A particular highlight is Act 1 finale “The Frogs” where croaking is mimicked into the lyrics and sets the scene for terrifying giant amphibians who kidnap Dionysos. It’s a shame that Act 2 finale number doesn’t end on such a high.
Overall, there were a few mistakes. Some lyrics were forgotten in the opening number, a couple of the ensemble weren’t as slick with the choreography but I believe this was probably just down to press night nerves as it picked up throughout the evening. All in all the cast are superb and do their best with the setting they’re working with. Although perhaps for some peoples taste the writing was a little cringe, the audience laughed pretty much all the way through. It was also refreshing to hear a score by Sondheim that we haven’t heard before, and it’s really worth going even just for that reason.
Reviewed by Ellie Devonshire
Photo: David Ovenden
The Frogs is playing a sold out run at Jermyn Street Theatre until 8 April 2017. Call the box office for returns.