a comedy in one act by Aristophanes, freely adapted by Burt Shevelove. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Additional lyrics by William Shakespeare.
Produced at Yale Swimming Pool, Connecticut, 20 May 1974 with Larry Blyden (Dionysos), Michael Vale (Xanthias), Jeremy Dempsey (Pinto), Jerome Geidt (William Shakespeare) and Anthony Holland (Bernard Shaw). Produced at Old Brentford Swimming Pool, London, 24 July 1990 with Richard Zajdlic, Bob Husson, John Sheppard, Geoff Saunders and Rory Johnstone.
The time is the present, the place Ancient Greece and the set a swimming pool at the far end of which Charon lies dozing in his boat, his beard trailing in the water. A fanfare sounds and the elderly juvenile Dionysos tiptoes on, followed by his loyal slave Xanthias, burdened by baggage. "We could begin the play," he ventures. "Yes," says Dionysos, "but first . . .": the Prologos.
"Gods of the theatre," beseeches Dionysos, "you who look down on actors . . ." "And who doesn't?" adds Xanthias. Their Invocation and Instructions to the Audience are exhaustive: no coughing, no swimming, no stripping, no saying "What?" because there's a line you missed, and don't intrude if one of the actresses is nude. Dionysos is weighted down by the complete works of George Bernard Shaw and, as they traverse the stage, an unseen chorus supplies their plods and trudges. Xanthias questions his master's divine status but Dionysos is adamant: 1 am still a god, and you know goddam well 1 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.
As Charon rows Dionysos across the Styx, the chorus sings the Parados: "Brek-kek-kekkek-kek-kek! Ko-ax!" they croak, identifying themselves not as hoity-toity intellectuals or hippy dippy homosexuals but just 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 Hymnos - Evoe! 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. Dionysos hopes Shaw will return from Hades to write new dramas which tell us the truth about ourselves. But, as Hierophantes explains in the Parabasis, 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. Prefaced by a hasty Invocation to the Muses, the contest be-gins. 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 Exodus: The Sound of Poets. As the lights fade, Dionysos is proudly displaying the returned Shakespeare to the audience.
- DIONYSOS - The god of drama and god of wine - not necessarily in that order.
- XANTHIAS - Barefoot but loyal, gross but devoted slave to Dionysos. His name means "yellow" in Corinthian.
- CHARON - Boatman on the River Styx, ferrying first-class passengers only non-stop to Hades.
- HERAKLES - Strangler of the Nemean Lion, cleaner of Augean stables and ferocious half-brother to Dionysos.
- AEAKOS - Very old, mostly blind and slightly deaf keeper of keys to the palace of Pluto.
- CHARISMA - An impressionable young handmaiden to Persephone.
- VIRILLA - Handmaiden and good friend to Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons.
- PLUTO - Son of Kronos, Lord of the Lower Regions, ruler of the dead and a big, jolly bon vivant.
- HIEROPHANTES - Leader of the Dionysians.
- GEORGE BERNARD SHAW - A small, wiry, bearded dramatist who speaks at breakneck speed.
- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE - Also a dramatist, in his forties but with a youthful, easygoing air.
- ATTENDANTS OF PLUTO - Flag bearers and guards.
- A REVEL OF DIONYSIANS - Followers of the god of wine.
- A SPLASH OF FROGS
REED I - Piccolo, Flute
REED II - Oboe, Cor Anglais
REED III - Bassoon
REED IV - Bassoon
The Frogs with Evening Primrose - World Premier Recording Nonesuch 79638-2