The Frogs” is one Stephen Sondheim musical that did not have legs. The comedic adaptation of the Aristophanes classic has had only three revivals since its 1974 premiere — the most recent of which has just opened at the Attic Theater.
The play is an interesting intellectual exercise, and the score (which has never been recorded) is recognizable and highly enjoyable Sondheim. Both deserve a better production than the Attic’s.
It’s easy enough to see why the show originally failed — and why it had its premiere at Yale. To appreciate the work, one has to be thoroughly familiar with Greek mythology and tragedy, as well as the works of Shakespeare and Shaw.
A 100-minute one-act, “The Frogs” remains true to its source while poking fun at the conventions of Greek tragedy. As with Aristophanes’ original, the book by Burt Shevelove centers on a trip into hell by Dionysos (as the god of wine is spelled by Shevelove).
Its centerpiece is a debate on the nature of theater between Shaw and Shakespeare. Dionysos must decide which writer he should bring back to Earth.
The songs are full of the rhythmic complexity and witty lyrics we expect from Sondheim. One wishes there were more of them.
The play includes both broad comedy and thoughtful, serious interludes. The Attic production, under director Michael Michetti, generally does the latter better.
The comedy too often seems forced; too many of the actors spend too much time mugging. An exception is Mark Forrest as Shakespeare, who goes too far in the opposite direction; his Bard is so laid back he barely registers.