“The time is the present. The place is Ancient Greece.”
Last night David and I went to see the Midwest premiere of “THE FROGS” at Off The Wall Theatre. It was truly incredible. It’s not often that I see a show in semi-pro/community theater around town that WOWs me as much as this one did. And I’m not saying that just because I knew all but one cast member.
The show is based on a comedy written in 405 BC by Aristophanes. It was “freely” adapted by Burt Shevelove and Nathan Lane. (Fun fact- they originally debuted it in a Yale University swimming pool.) Music is written by Stephen Sondheim. And it is obvious. The music is beautiful and amazingly difficult. I was really impressed by the quality of everyone’s voices. These are my friends, I know they can sing, but I was really blown away. Sondheim is HARD. Harmonies are weird. I often joke that he hates singers, and from what I hear from my musician friends, he hates them too. I know how much work goes into learning music like that, and they managed it brilliantly.
Karl Miller and David Flores got the audience laughing immediately. They do a lot of “breaking the fourth wall” by occasionally talking and interacting with the audience. Mr. Flores plays Dionysos, God of Drama and Wine. Mr. Miller plays Xanthias, his slave.
Dionysos has decided to take a journey to Hades, the underworld, to bring back someone who can help make the world better. A playwright. George Bernard Shaw. Along the way, the pair meet up with Herakles to get some travel tips. There is really no way to pick a favorite character or part, but Joe Fransee really cracked me up as Herakles. And, um, he’s really pretty to look at. Reeeaallly. Like, you should go see the show just to look at him in his muscle tank and short shorts. Oh, and this:
Whew! Okay… moving on…
Dionysos and Xanthias finally make it to the underworld, and that’s when things really get crazy. There is an eight minute song and dance at the end of the first act. I can hardly describe it to make you understand the random awesomeness of it all. Dionysos is afraid of frogs. Suddenly, an army of frogs attacks their boat while crossing the River Styx. The entire cast is out on stage acting like crazy maniacs in green shirts and visors with googly eyes on the top. I really can’t explain the crazy hilariousness of it. Just believe me, it was chaotic and incredible.
The show has a lot of political undertones, true to its Greek beginnings. The “frogs” are those who just sit around and do nothing to change the world, when the world is going to hell. But it is also full of bawdy jokes, sassy dancing, and a lot of fun.
What other show can give you singing and dancing frogs AND a verbal throwdown between George Bernard Shaw and Billy Shakespeare?!
Oh yeah, did I mention that William Shakespeare makes an appearance? He does. He and Shaw fight a battle of words to determine who would make the best impact on the people and inspire them to stand up to their oppressive leaders and make a difference. It’s the “serious” part of the show.
I really, sincerely wish that they were doing another weekend of this, because I would see it again. I thought I might be able to on Sunday, but it won’t work out. If you are even vaguely into theater, music, comedy, or frogs, I highly recommend that you see this show. It’ll be practically impossible because the theater is tiny and they’re nearly, almost, mostly, totally sold out for the rest of the run. But sometimes a chair frees up the night of a performance. It’s almost a crime to have an empty chair at a performance this good.
This is one of the biggest successes that Off The Wall has had in a long time, and I couldn’t be happier for them. They even got a GREAT review in the Journal Sentinel. You can read that HERE. Should I have linked that in the beginning so you didn’t have to read my rambling? Probably. But I didn’t, SUCKERS! If you can find songs on the internets, listen to them! ITunes might have them. It’s just such a cheesy, fun show. Go see it!