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Two by Two (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

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Album Review

In his seventies, Broadway songwriter Stephen Sondheim's production of entire new shows may have slowed (only Bounce, which closed out of town in 2003, appeared after 1994's Passion), but the remounting of his earlier works became a torrent in the spring and summer 2004, when the Broadway-affiliated Roundabout Theatre revived both Assassins and Pacific Overtures and the Broadway-affiliated Lincoln Center Theater brought in a heavily revised version of The Frogs. Sondheim and librettist Burt Shevelove had collaborated on this adaptation of Aristophanes' 405 B.C. comedy for the Yale Drama School in 1974, when it was staged in a swimming pool. In 2001, Nathan Lane played the leading role of Dionysus in a studio cast recording that combined the short score with the four songs Sondheim wrote for a 1966 television musical, Evening Primrose. After that, Lane worked with Sondheim to expand The Frogs, adding to Shevelove's book as the composer wrote six new songs. The result opened on July 22, 2004, and played a limited run for Lincoln Center Theater's subscription audiences before closing on October 10. Two days later, the cast assembled for a recording produced by Tommy Krasker, who also had handled the 2001 album. While that version did theater fans the favor of preserving what then seemed like an archival work, this one reinvents The Frogs. The new material includes the hilarious "Dress Big," sung by Burke Moses with Lane, and the equally sidesplitting "Hades," sung by Peter Bartlett. "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience," an original number, has been refurbished; it now includes an admonition about cell phones. As Sondheim does with the music, Lane has sprinkled the dialogue with witty quotes from other sources. But as funny as The Frogs is, it also has a serious and timely message. By the end, when Dionysus has returned from Hades, the characters speak directly to the people of Athens, and it's clear the cast is speaking directly to the people of the U.S. in the audience. It isn't hard to understand that the implied message is that listeners should vote in the 2004 Presidential election, and vote against the incumbent. By the time the album was released in January 2005, five days after the Inauguration, it was too late for that message to be satisfied, but Sondheim, Shevelove, and Lane's The Frogs remained an entertaining and pointed cry for tolerance and peace.

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