Nathan Lane wrote the book to this revival of a 1974 adaptation of a Aristophanes play from 400 BCE. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Lane stars as Dionysos, the (half-)god of drama who, with his slave Zanthias (Chris Kattan) travels to the underworld to find an artist and playwright who can awaken the modern day world out of its stupor and put inspire us to right wrongs and improve society. Seems basic enough.
Unfortunately, the play is much too basic. Lane and Kattan sing an opening jig warning the audience not to expect too much plot but to enjoy the journey and avoid complaining until they reach the conclusion. Funny song. Bad sign. They then prattle away an entire first act with meaningless songs about journeying to find the underworld, getting a disguise, sailing the River Styx, etc. Curtain.
In Act Two, Dionysos and Zanthias arrive in Hadies, partake of many pleasures, marvel at how un-hellish it is (we find out that the “eternal torment” bit was just a Christian invention), offend a few people, engage in some cheap shots at the current administration, and then prepare to take George Bernard Shaw up to the world of mortals to right all wrong, save the world, and the like.
As they prepare to leave, Shaw disses William Shakespeare, who, of course, is within earshot. A duel of the wits commences, with Dionysos throwing out topics and the two writers spouting monologues from their various plays. The god of drama realizes that his hero, Shaw, tells it like it is at the expense of inspiring the audience. His brutal and harsh truths serve to alienate rather then instruct. Read: Liberal intellectuals. Instead, he decides to take Shakespeare, an artist who touches hearts and minds and unlocks beauty. (Michael Moore?) It all ends with a rousing ode to get-off-your-butt-and-change-things-with-art-ism. The end.
Very little substance, clumsily packaged, with nuggets of good humor that are not enough to redeem it. Lane’s book will do little to move moderates to his views and is unlikely to rouse liberals to action. He really could have done much more to flesh out the story, make the message more subtle and meaningful and nuanced, and maybe actually come up with something good. As it is, The Frogs is lightl, slightly entertaining but nothing more, and I doubt it is destined to stay open very long (especially if John Kerry wins the election).