Based on the play by Aristophanes
Music by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Burt Shevelove
Freely adapted by Nathan Lane.
2 Stars **
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST to 8 April 2017.
Tues – Sat 7.30 pm. Mat Sat & Sun 3pm. Thu 23 March & 6 April.
Runs 2hr 25 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2875.
Returns on from box office. No on line booking.
Review: William Russell 16 March.
A funny thing happened on the way to Jermyn Street …
Sadly the funny thing did not happen inside the Jermyn Street theatre. In 1974 Sondheim and Shevelove wrote a fairly short bon bouche musical based on Aristophanes which was performed in a swimming pool at Yale. Their Forum show was years before and Sondheim had also enjoyed several successes and a number of failures. In 2004 Nathan Lane, by then a Broadway legend, got permission to stage a much longer show in New York with added songs which ran for 92 performances.
It is this, with apparently more help from Mr Lane currently in London, which has turned up in Jermyn Street and a dreary evening it proves to be. Sondheim’s score is dismal and derivative of other shows he has written, sounding as if, when asked for more songs by Lane, he reached for his discards box and gave whatever came to hand. The orchestrations are strident sounding at times like cats on heat. Not that this will deter the Sondheimites from enjoying it as the master can do no wrong. The staging consists of brown dingy brown walls in front of which are some scaffolding platforms on which the actors dressed in hideous black garments cavort.
But there are redeeming features. The cast is splendid. Everyone can sing, and as Dionysos, the god of theatre and wine, Michael Matus is a total delight, robust of voice and totally engaging, rising way above his material.
The plot concerns his going to Hades along with his slave Xanthias, George Rae sounding amusingly like an escapee from Trainspotting, in order to bring back George Bernard Shaw to save the world by spouting sense everyone can respect. As for those frogs, Dionysos does not like the creatures and encounters some along the way to absolutely no effect. Somewhere one feels Aristophanes jumped ship.
Other pleasures include a hunky Herakles (Chris McGuigan) a stoned on pot Charon (Jonathan Wadey,) and a very sweetly voiced Shakespeare (Nigel Pilkington) – the writer Dionysus opts for instead of Shaw. Pilkington gets the only decent song – Fear No More, lyrics by Shakespeare – which is his good luck.
The plot is alleged to have resonances for today although what they are is anybody’s guess, let alone why GBS should be the wordsmith to save the world from the inarticulate politicians who ruled when the play was written in 1974, ran riot in 2004 in the USA when this version was staged and are even more numerous today.
Dionysos: Michael Matus.
Xanthias: George Rae.
Herakles: Chris McGuigan.
Charon/Aekos: Jonathan Wadey.
Virilla the Amazon: Li-Tong Hsu.
Pluto: Emma Ralston.
George Bernard Shaw: Martin Dickinson.
William Shakespeare: Nigel Pilkington.
Ariadne: Bernadette Bangura.
Director: Grace Wesseis.
Musical Director: Tim Sutton.
Set & Costume Designer: Gregory Donnelly.
Lighting Designer: Tim Mascall.
Movement Director: Tim McArthur.