‘Frogs’ Star Adam Benavides Is One to Watch
By Doug Carroll
Photos by Ruth Nsubuga
Of all the reasons to see “The Frogs” next weekend before it closes the 2010-11 Ethington Theatre Series, one stands out above the rest: Adam Benavides.
The freshman from Queen Creek can do it all, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him heading off to Broadway or to Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe someday. For now, GCU is fortunate to have him, and “The Frogs” wouldn’t work nearly as well without him.
The first weekend’s performances of the musical comedy played to near capacity at the campus swimming pool, the west end of which is being used as a watery stage for the 90-minute show. As usual, the creative set by Bill Symington works beautifully, and it’s not long before the novelty of watching theatre at a pool wears off and you’re focusing on the student performances, which are very good.
In the role of Dionysus, the Greek god of drama, Benavides plays an amiable wuss who sets out on a trip to the underworld to bring back to Earth a great playwright. He has his heart set on George Bernard Shaw, but his phobia about frogs adds trepidation to the nocturnal journey.
If you’re guessing that a mini-army of frogs would serve nicely as the ancient Greek chorus, then you’re way ahead of the game in figuring out Aristophanes’ work, adapted in musical form by Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Nathan Lane. The plot is as threadbare as a thrift-store suit, but it doesn’t really matter.
Before setting off on his mission, Dionysus receives counsel from his half-brother Heracles (played by Mark Morales), and Heracles tries to toughen him up. “Dress Big,” the number involving both of them, shows off everything Benavides can do. He can sing, he can dance and he’s got a boatload of mannerisms suited to physical comedy. You can’t take your eyes off him.
As terrific as Benavides is, he doesn’t need to carry the show. There are strong performances, too, from Lauren Bailey, as Dionysus’ slave, Xanthias; Nathan deLaet, as the weary river Styx navigator, Charon; Bina Neuwirth, as Pluto, the ruler of the underworld; and Jake Swanson, as a bombastic, wild-eyed Shaw.
A company number in the middle of the second act, “Hades,” extols the pleasures of life in hell and is a show-stopper. “Hell is hot!” proclaims Pluto, and we’re talking trendy as well as toasty.
The story turns on an oratorical throwdown between Shaw and William Shakespeare, played with perfect erudition and elocution by Brad Beamon. The duel is refereed like a prizefight by Dionysus, with each playwright repairing to his corner between rounds.
Kudos go to Dean Claude Pensis for his direction, to vocal coach Sheila Corley, to choreographer Berlin McGinn and to the three-piece band (John Luke Osorio, Julianne Forte and Morgan Ambrose) that brings the peppy Sondheim songs to life.
Stylistically, “The Frogs” is about as far from “The Comedy of Errors” as you can get, but the fact that the College of Fine Arts and Production superbly staged both works this year bears witness to its successful reinvention at GCU.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.