Musicals by the master songsmith Stephen Sondheim, who died in 2021, have been in steady supply in New York City in recent years: Excellent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along are both on Broadway right now, the all-new Here We Are is in previews at the Shed, and the Twenty-Twenties have already given us major new productions of Company, Into the Woods, West Side Story and Assassins. But a few Sondheim shows still qualify as bona fide rarities. One of them is The Frogs, which will get a rare hearing, courtesy of the concert series MasterVoices, in three performances this November.
Loosely adapted (and updated) from an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, The Frogs was written in 1974 with Burt Shevelove, with whom Sondheim had previously written A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The show was performed by the Yale Repertory Theatre in a swimming pool on campus, for just eight performances. (Among the students in the chorus: Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Durang.) The plot follows the journey of the Greek god Dionysus and his slave Xanthius to the Underworld, in search of a great playwright who could rescue the world from the horrors into which it has fallen—culminating in a dramatic face-off between William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.
In 2004, Nathan Lane worked with Sondheim to adapt and expand this curio into a full-length musical, which made its Broadway debut at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater starring Lane as Dionysus. The actor has tweaked the script anew for the MasterVoices concert staging, which he will also host, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on November 2 and 3. Directed and conducted by Ted Sperling, the production will feature a steller cast of musical-theater pros—Douglas Sills, Kevin Chamberlin, Peter Bartlett, Dylan Baker, Chuck Cooper, Marc Kudisch, Jordan Donica and Candice Corbin—backed by an 18-piece orchestra and the 120–member MasterVoices chorus.
Unlike those ancient Greek pantheon, musical-theater gods are mortal. But their music, if we honor it, will never croak.
The Frogs plays at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater on November 2 at 8pm and November 3 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets range from $30–$165, and can be purchased here.