By Victoria L. Dammer

Nathan Lane hosted three sold-out performances of Aristophanes’ play “The Frogs” at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on November 3rd and 4th, presented by MasterVoices.

Lane, in his opening dialogue, proclaimed his “distinct honor and pleasure” to have collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on the revival of this unusual award-winning play written in 650 B.C. He also conveyed his satisfaction working with the play’s director, Susan Stroman, and the outstanding contribution to the orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Although Lane said there were challenges in turning this unusual piece into a musical for modern times, the production had an amazing cast and preserved Sondheim’s original score.

The Frogs was written in 405 BC by Aristophanes, a comedy playwright who produced about 43 plays of which only a handful survived. The play is set in a war-plagued society, fitting for the current world situation, and presents a very tongue-in-cheek look at comedy. The God Dionysos (Douglas Sills) travels to Hades, along with his slave Xanthias (Kevin Chamberlin), to bring back George Bernard Shaw (Dylan Baker) to rectify the world with some sanity for some confounded reason.

Dionysos comments on his disdain for frogs, describing them as “slimy, ugly, disgusting troublemakers. They have big mouths and narrow little eyes to match their narrow little points of view.” Aristophanes suggests his view of society by comparing it to frogs.

But before Dionysos leaves for the underworld, he meets with his half-brother Herakles (Marc Kudisch) to explain his mission.

“I am obsessed by George Bernard Shaw,” Dionysos says, “I’m sure you have noticed the world is in terrible shape, and we have need of him.” He claims a great artist could be the world’s salvation.

Herakles prepares the rather naïve and wimpish Dionysos for his trip. On his journey to hell, he rides across the River Styx with Charon (Chuck Cooper), the ferryman of Hades who carries souls to their last resting spot. Charon is a rhyming comedian, bringing a rousing round of applause.

“Hades Express! Non-stop, just a short hop to the bottomless pit. This is it! Club Dead,” Charon says. “Bring your shroud. No coffins allowed. There’s too big a crowd.”

Interspersed throughout the hilarious dialogue is the renowned MasterVoices chorus of over 130, filling in as backstory. The audience was full of pleasure to see the dancers perform in green costumes as frogs, who are often featured in mythology as ill-fated creatures. Still, in this play, they try to thwart Dionysos’s mission, reaffirming their roles as troublemakers.

Pluto (Peter Bartlett) sings the accolades of hell to Dionysos, letting him know Shaw, along with Euripides, Shakespeare, and O’Neill are at a banquet. Pluto sets up a game show-like contest between Shakespeare (Jordan Donica) and Shaw to see who is the better writer between the two and who will accompany Dionysos back to Earth. Lane’s satirical jokes fly once again to the delight of the audience.

Dionysos sings his last refrain, warning the citizens of Athens, “Dare I say it? What have we learned? We must participate or prepare to be burned. Frogs will be frogs and life’s for the living. Man must use his brain or there’ll be much misgiving. I’ve taken a chance, I’ve brought back a poet. Let’s take charge of the world before it’s gone as we know it.”

A subtle caution for today’s citizens of the world.

The Frogs was an outstanding new adaptation, as Lane proclaimed, judging from the packed theater. Lane should once again be celebrated for his superb gift of humor and narration.

The Frogs at Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center. Adapted by Burt Shevelove and narrator Nathan Lane. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Susan Stroman. Orchestration by Jonathan Tunick. Conducted by Ted Sperling. Accompanied by MasterVoices Chorus and MasterVoices Orchestra.

Starring host Nathan Lane, Douglas Sills as Dionysos, Kevin Chamberlin as Xanthias, Peter Bartlett as Pluto, Dylan Baker George Bernard Shaw, Chuck Cooper as Charon, Marc Kudisch as Herakles, Jordan Donica as Shakespeare and Candace Corbin as Ariadne. Press by Pascal Nadon Communications.