Stephen Sondheim's damp musical curiosity, The Frogs, first staged in the Yale University Swimming Pool in 1974, was recorded June 12, under the baton of Paul Gemignani, with new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.
Tommy Krasker, who shepherded a number of "authentic" studio recordings of Gershwin shows, is producer, and a future release is expected on the Nonesuch label. There is speculative talk that a recording of Sondheim's TV musical, "Evening Primrose," may also end up on the disc, as The Frogs is a short piece.
The Frogs was first produced by Yale Repertory Theatre in the Yale pool under the direction of Burt Shevelove, who adapted the Aristophanes comedy of the same name (circa 405 B.C.). The original play involved Dionysus going to Hades in order to restore Euripides to his former prominence as a living dramatist. A debate begins as to whether Dionysus should pluck Euripides or Aeschylus from the underworld.
In the loose, free-wheeling Shevelove version, seen May 22 in a condensed, concert revival at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (with Nathan Lane, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Davis Gaines and chorus), the debate concerns the choice between Shakespeare and Shaw. Should Dionysus (Lane) choose the poet or the polemicist?
The world premiere recording mirrors the D.C. Concert with Lane and Mitchell ("Invocation and Instructions to the Audience"), Gaines (singing "Fear No More," with words by Shakespeare and music by Sondheim), and chorus. The Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress barely held a dozen choristers, but the recording uses twice that number. The recording also contains comic dialogue between Lane and Mitchell, with narrative sections of "It's Only a Play" which were not performed in Washington and will be recorded at a later date. The 1974 production had eight performances and starred Larry Blyden and a mostly student cast that included Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Durang and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. The cast was never recorded, but pieces from The Frogs have made their way into Sondheim revues and concerts, and in cabarets.
The May 22 presentation -- with complex choral work -- was from a script condensed and adapted by Sondheim for the evening. The program indicated the following:
• Prologos: "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" (Lane, Mitchell).
• "Travelling Music" (Chorus).
• Parados: "The Frogs" (Chorus with Lane, Mitchell).
• Hymnos: "Evoe!" (Chorus).
• Parabasis: "It's Only a Play" (Soloists and Chorus).
• "Evoe for the Dead" (Chorus).
• "Invocation to the Muses" (Chorus with Nathan Lane).
• "Fear No More" (Davis Gaines).
• Exodos: "The Sound of Poets" (Chorus).
According to May 22 concert notes by Mark Eden Horowitz of the music division of the Library of Congress, "Because the 1974 production of The Frogs was to be performed in and around a swimming pool, [original orchestrator] Tunick had originally thought that the acoustics would welcome a 'dry' woodwind sound that included no strings. After hearing the performance, he decided he had been wrong. Thus, [the May 22 D.C. concert] boasts the world premiere of brand new Tunick orchestrations..."
-- By Kenneth Jones
and Amy Asch