Sweet Mout’ Virgil/Uncle Herman/
Poseidon ….. Bob Devin Jones
Orpheus ….. Evan Dexter Parke
Eurydice ….. Eisa Davis
Stranger ….. Steve Humphrey
Sisyphus ….. Ron Bobb-Semple
Mariella/Persephone ….. Adrienne Hurd
Dion/Pluto ….. Alvin Crawford
Myra ….. Nicolette Depass
Toogie ….. Valentina Alexander
Mama Cli’pe/Hecate ….. Harriett D. Foy
Mama Cli’pe Spirits ….. Natalie Rogers, Norwood Pennewell,
Lutin Tanner, Joel Valentin
Suki ….. Porshia Johnson
Ping ….. Joseph Solomon
Cerebus ….. Vishal Shetty
Rocks ….. Bill Ferguson, Lutin Tanner
Sexy Sirens ….. Natalie Rogers,
Sharon Skepple, Micha Willis
Tityus ….. Chris Morrison
Garth Fagan Dancers: Norwood Pennewell, Steve Humphrey, Valentina Alexander, Natalie Rogers, Chris Morrison, Sharon Skepple, Micha Willis, Bill Ferguson, Joel Valentin, Nicolette Depass, Lutin Tanner, Vishal Shetty, Steve St. Juste (understudy).
Singers: Nadine Carey, Clara Davis, Kenita Miller.
Musical numbers: “Orpheus Man,” “Homage to the Sea,” “Do It!,” “Eurydice,” “Dreams,” “Dreamsong,” “Caribbean Lullabye,” “Land of Ethiope,” “Stinky Styx,” “Man Only Want Woman for Sex,” “If I Reach Out.”
It’s not the first time there’s been a collision between the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and contemporary culture (the 1959 film “Black Orpheus” was one such occasion), but the creative twists inspired by Geva Theater’s collaboration with Garth Fagan Dance gives the conceit a fresh spin. Part costume pageant, part dance spectacle and part rousing musical numbers, wrapped around a timeless love story and delivered in unique style, “Famous Orpheus” has all the rudimentary makings of a successful Broadway show.
On a fictional Caribbean island just before Carnival, Orpheus (Evan Dexter Parke) is the village singer, while Eurydice (Eisa Davis) is a farm lass come to visit her uncle (Bob Devin Jones). The entire community is rehearsing for the festival, with Orpheus as director.
The idea could be seriously hokey, but playwright OyamO, director Mark Cuddy and Fagan have infused the show with a solid integrity and even a kind of sweet innocence. They have also smoothly integrated the story into a musical rich in island rhythms, leaving lots of room for Fagan’s archly dramatic choreography, which anchors “Famous Orpheus” in sensual, hot-tempered numbers driven by steel drums and Caribbean rhythms.
Add to that the use of dialects and the weaving in of local mythologies and history, as well as Sweet Mout’ Virgil’s narration informing us that this story of “a man who got into a bad accident with a Greek myth” is to be told in the “traditional way, before ships brought the black man to America as slaves.”
Two children, Suki (Porshia Johnson) and Ping (Joseph Solomon), both of whom take music lessons (guitar, instead of lyre) from Orpheus, are the voice of the future, lifting the grim ending by insisting that, as the “bringer of songs,” his legacy will live on.
In a clever, hilarious overlap of myth and reality, the kids are learning the Greek myth in school and accidentally tip off Orpheus’ fiancee, Mariella (Adrienne Hurd), that her lover’s interests may lie elsewhere. From then on contemporary references abound. Dion, the politician, offers fax machines in every home, Sisyphus insists his lying is really aggressive target marketing, and boatman Charon sings one of the best songs in the show as he guides Orpheus into the Underworld — a rap number called “Stinky Styx.”
Orpheus reclaims Eurydice by singing, although Pluto makes it clear he prefers early Michael Jackson; meanwhile, Poseidon is cheerfully referred to as Deus Ex Machina when he strolls on to help Orpheus out.
This wild jumble is mostly witty and occasionally incisive. From time to time , however, it tips too far off course and turns things into a folksy spoof, undermining the production’s potential.
The company is adept at juggling the demands of acting, singing and dancing, and although there are some weak links musically, they do not stem from the band’s spirited, yet sensitive, playing. Parke’s Orpheus, for example, is physically imposing, but he tends to an almost offhand delivery of songs, which are occasionally so muted the band drowns him out, despite miking. As much is made of him being better than “Frank” and “Julio,” the quality of that singing is crucial.
Others, like the sparky Hurd and charming Davis (both of whom also dance beautifully), and a charismatic Virgil (also played by Bob Devin Jones), manage a better balance.