“a commendable production of a show that seems more significant than ever”
As we are in the midst of shaky political times, where uncertainty is widespread, and volatile tyrants lead some of the world’s most powerful nations, it seems only right to revive a musical that follows the anger and frustration of citizens who put all their blame on the heads of their government. Stephen Sondheim’s darkly humorous Assassins, whose last London revival was three years ago, now comes to the Pleasance Theatre with a highly pertinent, and thought-provoking adaptation. It is one of the King of Broadway’s less well-known productions, yet, it still blends some of Sondheim’s most recognisable qualities of bringing challenging yet powerful stories to the foreground.
Starting as a murderous fairground game that offers the gun-slinging attempt to ‘Hit The Prez’, it unfolds into the true-life tales of the nine men and women who have tried, or, succeeded in assassinating the President of the United States. Set in the Vaudeville/Revue-style of yesteryear, we in turn focus on each person’s story, getting a better understanding as to his or her motivations. Whether it is fame, notoriety, delusion, or simply a troublesome stomach pain, each assassin has a reason for wanting to strike.
The use of a brilliant revolving stage helped to establish the swift variety performance style, yet there were moments, particularly halfway through, where the pace seemed to be lacking. Musical Director Jordan Clarke did a fine job at leading the small group of musicians through Sondheim’s demanding score, whilst the rather large cast all gave commanding performances, with not one weak link. Particular standouts were Andrew Pepper as Charles Guiteau, whose eccentric characteristics resembled that of crooked Fagin, and Alfie Parker as Samuel Byck, whose one-sided rant into a tape recorder, meant for Richard ‘Dick’ Nixon, is a standout scene.
A nod to Donald Trump is made towards the end, which rather forcibly and heavy-handedly reminds the audience that this show is relevant to the present climate. Anyone with half a brain could already make the connection, so it feels like an unnecessary gimmick, however, regardless of the unwarranted ending, this is a commendable production of a show that seems more significant than ever.
Michael Matus and George Rae are to head the cast of Stephen Sondheim’s The Frogs.They will play Dionysos and Xanthias in the UK premiere of the latest Broadway version of the rarely performed musical, an hilarious send up of Greek comedy and satire, with a book revised and expanded by Nathan Lane.
The Frogs, loosely based on a comedy written in 405 BC by Aristophanes, freely adapted for today by Burt Shevelove, and even more freely adapted by Nathan Lane, with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, produced by House on the Hill Productions in association with Jermyn Street Theatre and directed by Grace Wessels, will premiere at Jermyn Street Theatre from Tuesday 14 March – Saturday 8 April.
Michael Matus has just played Mrs Bumbrake in the UK premiere of Peter and the Starcatcher. He has featured in seven shows for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His many West End and major roles include Monsieur Firmin in The Phantom of the Opera, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Lend Me a Tenor, Yes Prime Minister, Imagine This, Martin Guerre and The Sound of Music at Regent’s Park.
George Rae was nominated for three Best Actor awards as Otto Kringelei in Grand Hotel at Southwark Theatre (Best Male Performance in the Off West End Theatre Awards, Best Featured Actor in a New Production of a Musical, Broadway World UK West End Awards and Best Actor in The West End Wilma Awards). His other roles include Patsy in Spamalot (Frankfurt), Benjamin in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Schlomo in Fame, Rick in A Slice of Saturday Night, Mr Two in Adding Machine, Timon in The Lion King and TJ in Sister Act.
The rest of the cast are: Bernadette Bangura (Ragtime, Charing Cross Theatre), Martin Dickinson (Promises Promises, Southwark Playhouse), Chris McGuigan (Through the Mill, London Theatre Workshop), Li-Tong Hsu (Here Lies Love, National Theatre), Nigel Pilkington (The Showstoppers), Emma Ralston (Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods), Jonathan Wadey (previously at Jermyn Street Theatre in House on the Hill’s UK premiere of Natural Affection).
The Frogs was originally performed in 1974 in Yale University’s gymnasium’s swimming pool, featuring members of the Yale swimming team. Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver were among its ensemble.This latest version, which opened on Broadway in 2004, includes seven additional Stephen Sondheim songs.
From the same writers behind A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, The Frogs, playfully explores the great challenges of human existence: confronting our fears, understanding life and death, and challenging the distractions that can prevent us from achieving our goals.
This boisterously hilarious yet poignant musical follows Dionysos, Greek god of wine and drama, and his slave Xanthias on a journey to Hades to collect renowned critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw so that he may enlighten the easily misled and coerced masses of Earth. Along this journey, Dionysos and Xanthias meet Herakles, Charon, Pluto, and of course, the chorus of frogs. Then, Shakespeare shows up and starts declaiming his greatest hits; and before long he engages in a battle of words with Mr. Shaw. Who will win the honor of becoming reincarnated: The Bard or Bernard?
The Frogs stays true to its heritage, mixing Aristophanic pratfall satire with a Sondheim score that swings from witty to pretty to rambunctious, but it also mirrors the Greek original for the serious issue of the role of the arts in a world beset by war and folly.
Broadway star Nathan Lane decided to expand The Frogs in 2001.
“After September 11 … I started to think, there’s something in this piece right now. … There’s something idealistic about the notion of someone believing that the arts can make a difference … I found it moving, in light of what is going on in the world.”