Book by Burt Shevelove, with revisions by Nathan Lane, based on Aristophanes’ The Frogs. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Lyrics for “Fear No More” by William Shakespeare. The original Yale production opened on 20 May 1974 and was staged by Burt Shevelove, running for 8 performances. The original Broadway production opened on 22 July 2004 and was directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, running for 92 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
We find ourselves in a troubled, war-plagued society, bereft of moral and cultural leadership. A fanfare sounds and the elderly juvenile Dionysos arrives with his loyal slave Xanthias. Before the play begins, Dionysos salutes the gods and passes on an exhaustive volume of tips to the audience (INVOCATION AND INSTRUCTIONS TO THE AUDIENCE).
Dionysos, the god of drama as well as wine, decides to venture into Hades with the aim of returning with a great, long-dead playwright to inspire the corrupt contemporary world (I LOVE TO TRAVEL). Xanthias questions his master’s divine status but Dionysos is adamant: “I am still a god, and you know goddam well I am.” By now, they are at the house of Herakles, to outline their scheme to bring Bernard Shaw back to earth and ask Herakles if he knows the way to Hades. Herakles gives Dionysos directions and a lion skin with matching vine leaves and club (DRESS BIG). Dionysos and Xanthias continue on their way (I LOVE TO TRAVEL)
Charon rows Dionysos across the Styx (ALL ABOARD) and Dionysos remembers his lost love, his dead wife ARIADNE, and recalls a time when the world offered him more than wine and song. They encounter a group that consist not of hoity-toity intellectuals or hippy dippy homosexuals – THE FROGS. On the other side of the Styx, Xanthias is finding Hades pretty hellish, but Dionysos persuades him to stay, assisted by ominous orchestral rumblings from dreaded beasts like the Thanaglebe and the Hippodrool. Even more cacophonous are the Dionysians, worshipping the god of wine with a formal EVOE / HYMN TO DIONYSIS that gradually gets out of hand. Afterwards, Dionysos enquires of one supplicant if he knows of a red-bearded fellow, name of SHAW. By chance he does. “Everything is falling into place,” gasps Dionysos. “Like a well-made play.” Then, due to a misunderstanding with Aeakos, Pluto’s keeper of keys, Dionysos finds himself in imminent danger of violent death. He swaps his Heraklean lion skin with Xanthias but, after Xanthias strikes lucky with the beautiful Charisma, his boss insists on having it back – until he’s mauled by the Amazonian Virilla. As they’re lobbing the lion skin back and forth, master and servant are arrested and lashed by Pluto’s Attendants. They are rescued by Pinto himself, who invites them to dinner to meet Shaw (HADES). Dionysos hopes Shaw will return from Hades to write new dramas which tell us the truth about ourselves. But, as Hierophantes explains, IT’S ONLY A PLAY.
Dionysos, though, is thrilled: he’s met Chekhov, Congreve, Ibsen and Brecht – although Racine left early. Shaw himself tends to lengthy speeches and Dionysos is lucky to get in the occasional Wes, but . . .” But then Shakespeare shows up and starts declaiming his greatest hits, and before long the two dramatists are pledged to a battle of words. The contest begins and, eventually, Shakespeare clinches it with a song, FEAR NO MORE. “You lose, Bernard,” says Dionysos, but Shaw doesn’t take it very well and Shakespeare seems reluctant to leave Hades and start writing again. Pluto makes an offer: take Shaw off his hands, and he’ll throw in Ibsen. In the end, however, Dionysos returns with Shakespeare as the Dionysians sing the HYMN TO DIONYSOS. As the lights fade, Dionysos is proudly displaying the returned Shakespeare to the audience (FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE AUDIENCE).
Purchases from Amazon.com
From left to right above: 1. The Frogs / Evening Primrose 2001 Studio Cast CD. 2. The Frogs 2004 Original Broadway Cast CD. 3. Four Plays by Aristophanes including the original play. 4. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum/The Frogs Scripts. 5. All Sondheim Volume 2 Vocal Selections, includes “Fear No More” and “Invocation and Instructions”.