UTS Backstage presents the Australian premiere of ‘The Frogs’, a musical adapted by Steven Sondheim and Burt Shevelove, based on the play be Aristophanes. The musical follows Dionysus on his way into Hades to bring his literary idol, George Bernard Shaw, back from the dead. Backstage’s performance of this musical had great production value and was presented as a cohesive team effort. As a comedy, this play had both a light and dark side. The dynamic cast was entertaining in their quick repartee and comic timing. Their slapstick humour helped create a vibrant atmosphere and as a Sondheim the dialogue was heavy with wit and the lyrics were pregnant with meaning.
The second half of the show saw the musical come to a crescendo in a heated debate between George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare, with the God of Drama and Wine, Dionysus, moderating. For me, the building of tension, the sharp dialogue and the commitment of the lead cast made this scene the highlight of the performance. The energetic cast gave relevance to Aristophanes’ classic Greek play, creating a social commentary that criticises modern apathy and slacktivism.
Commendations to the set design (set designer, Emily Burke), for being innovative with their use of space of the Monkey Baa, Darling Harbour. As an epic Greek quest, there were many costume and set changes that were central to the plot, and these were achieved by sourcing props, for example Charon’s boat (through the Styx) from Opera Australia. Their attention to detail added to the atmosphere as well, for instance the shining of a light through a clear bucket of water created a more realistic sense of travelling down the river to Hades.
Further credits go to Chris McKay as this was his first musical as Director, and his team. The dance numbers and sneaky acrobatic sequences, choreographed by Emily Newberry, were well placed and provided a visual break from the gag-laden dialogue. As with any live performance, there can be technical issues on the night in terms of audio balancing. However, I was impressed by the cast’s excellent resilience as they acted professionally and without distraction. Commendations to the actors for performing with integrity and dignity- chorus and leads respectively.
Backstage’s production of ‘The Frogs’ is an entertaining night out and a great achievement, really capturing the satirical nature of Sondheim’s adaptation of a Greek classic.
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