Sondheim, Lane and Stroman's The Frogs Finds a Lily Pad at Lincoln Center Beginning June 22

By Robert Simonson
22 Jun 2004

Nathan Lane, star of The Frogs
Nathan Lane, star of The Frogs

The Frogs, the newly revamped version of Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove's Aristophanes-inspired 1974 musical oddity, will leap to life June 22, when previews begin at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

Susan Stroman directs and choreographs the show, which will feature a half-dozen new songs by Sondheim and mark star Lane's first attempt at writing a musical theatre libretto. According to Sondheim, Lane has rewritten "four fifths" of Shevelove's original adaptation. Lane approached the composer about taking a new crack at the script after a successful May 22, 2002, concert version of the show.

About the production, Sondheim told the New York Times, "It's not a revival. The old one was only about 40 minutes long. Nathan has really expanded it."

Opening is July 22 for a healthy run which stretches until Oct. 10.

Nathan Lane stars as Dionysos in the musical, which is based on the Aristophanes classic. The ancient play focuses on a debate between Aeschylus and Euripides, to determine who is the greater artist. The winner of the contest returned to Earth with Dionysos to save civilization.



Sondheim (Assassins) and librettist Burt Shevelove wrote the show for a production staged in the Yale swimming pool in 1974. The story was updated to feature a debate between William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw and has traditionally required elaborate special effects, a large cast of actors skilled in both acting and swimming and an exhibition pool in which they perform. (No massive pool is being added into the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center Theater.)

That 1974 cast included Larry Blyden as Dionysos, Michael Vale as his slave, Charles Levin as Charon, Jerome Dempsey as Pluto, Jeremy Geidt as Shakespeare and Anthony Holland as Shaw. There was also a large chorus of Yale students which included Christopher Durang, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, among others.

Two of the more known songs to emerge from the show are "Fear No More," a setting of Shakespeare verse by Sondheim, and "Invocation to the Gods and Instructions to the Audience," which was once the opening number of the score of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (replaced by "Comedy Tonight"), and was later heard in a revised form in the revue, Putting It Together. Chris Kattan will play Zanthias, Lane's slave, in the new production. Kattan is a star of "Saturday Night Live." Also in the cast are John Byner (Charon), Peter Bartlett (Pluto), Daniel Davis (Shaw), Burke Moses (Herakles) and Michael Siberry (Shakespeare).

The production is Stroman's first musical theatre work as a director-choreographer since 2001's short-lived Thou Shalt Not. Her production of The Producers is still playing at the St. James. That show was Lane's most recent Broadway credit.

Sondheim's Assassins is currently on the boards at Studio 54. Later this year, the Roundabout Theatre Company will present a revival of his Pacific Overtures.

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Davis, a veteran of San Francisco theatre, won a Tony nomination in 2000 for his turn as a foppish, but sincere theatre producer in Broadway's Wrong Mountain. Soon after, he played Oscar Wilde in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, also a Lincoln Center production.

Bartlett is known as a dependably funny high camp presence in the plays of Paul Rudnick. He most recently ended a run in Broadway's short-lived Never Gonna Dance. Burke Moses created the role of Gaston in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Since then, the muscle-bound actor has gone on to replace Brian Stokes Mitchell in Kiss Me, Kate. Siberry's best know credit is Captain von Trapp in the 1998 Broadway revival of The Sound of Music.

A comedian as well as an actor, John Byner is a well known face from television and film. He got his start making appearances on the "Tonight" show in the early '60s and appeared on "The Garry Moore Show" and "The Steve Allen Comedy Hour." He had his own television show in 1972. He played Detective Donahue on "Soap." He was also the voice of the Aardvark in the cartoon series "The Ant and the Aardvark"a voicing often mistakenly credited to Jackie Mason. He is renowned for his impressions, including various presidents and a dead on Ed Sullivan.