You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Hercules’

Hit or myth? This legendary hunk finds a musical home — this time with a sense of community.

Jelani Alladin, Roger Bart, Krysta Rodriguez, James Monroe Iglehart, Jeff Hiller, Ramona Keller, Tamika Lawrence, Rema Webb, Broadway Inspirational Voices, 10 Hairy Legs, Passaic High School Marching Band and many more.

1 hour 30 minutes

“What makes a hero?” are the first words in “Hercules,” the playful and sweet-spirited stage production based on the 1997 animated Disney film premiering in Central Park as part of the Pubic Theater’s Public Works program. Now tweaked for 2019 sensibilities, it’s a smart, funny and tuneful show that is also part pageant, complete with a marching band, an epic kick line and a cityscape populated with plenty of New Yorkers.

The scope and local involvement inherent in Public Works means this stage show’s future probably lies more in community-centric productions rather than on Broadway. The emotional impact of the show and its grading-on-a-curve kindness rests on this connection — not unlike the work Cornerstone Theater Company has done for decades. Minus that, though, it would still have many pleasures, just not the same purpose.

Lear Debessonet directs an all-ages cast of some 200 — mostly culled from community organizations from the five boroughs — with efficiency, energy and a keen sense of traffic control, allowing many to have their moments in the spotlight.

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz (“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”) neatly adapts the screenplay and keeps the 90-minute narrative brisk as it follows half-god, half-mortal Hercules, here son of Zeus and Hera, as he must prove himself a hero to regain his fully-divine status.

Diaz further punches up and updates the sassy script sprinkled with Greek reference, musical insider nods and realness. When Hercules asks how can he show his heroic skills, a citizen snaps,  “Can you help me find affordable housing?” Meanwhile, Hercules’ love interested Megara (Krysta Rodriguez) no longer is a faux-albeit-feisty damsel but rather someone who can take care of herself; and to answer the show’s opening question: Heroism comes from a united, activist hoi polloi battling demons and devils and taking control of its own destiny.

Diaz’s adaptation also addresses some stage realities: The flying horse Pegasus is cut; Herc’s accidental chaos is in the marketplace is minimal; and Hercules is not the only hero who steps up.

Many near-millennials who grew up with the film are likely to applaud, as the opening night crowd did, the first few notes from movie tunes such as “Zero to Hero,” “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” and the Oscar-nominated “Go the Distance.” But new songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel also delight, especially the jazzy “A Cool Day in Hell,” the anti-date-night number “Forget About It” and the ever-swelling “To Be a Human.” As even a villain admits after one song, “It’s an objectively catchy tune.”

In the end, the show rises or falls on the charisma its lead, and in Jelani Alladin (who originated the role of Kristoff in Broadway’s “Frozen”) the show has found a hero that’s also huggable. With a million-watt smile, Alladin’s Herc is charming, funny and emotionally vulnerable. This Herc is human to the core.

Roger Bart, who sang the role of Hercules in the animated film, now has a hell of a good time as the villainous Hades, especially during his cool blue-hot rages. (The show also completes this year’s musical Underworld trifecta along with “Beetlejuice” and “Hadestown”).

Rodriguez’s Meg counterbalances Hercules’ alternating naïveté and swagger with snap that’s still sexy. As Hercules’ personal trainer Phil, James Monroe Iglehart (“Aladdin”) finds his own crusty, exasperating voice, while Jeff Hiller finds comic gold in reactions as Hades’ go-fer Panic. And Ramona Keller, Rema Webb and Tamika Lawrence (along with Brianna Cabrera and Tieisha Thomas) lead their choral commentary with killer gospel voices.

Special nods go to James Ortiz’s puppetry designs and Andrea Hood’s costume choices, which show wit as well as bling — including Phil’s track suit, Herc’s fancy footwear and especially Meg’s hot leather jacket and pants, which signal strength and daring, especially next to the guy in a toga.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Hercules'

Delacorte Theater; 1,800 seats; free. Reviewed Sept. 2, 2019. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Free Shakespeare in the Park and Public Works presentation by the Public Theater, by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, of a musical in one act with book by Kristoffer Diaz based on the Disney film written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, and Irene Mecchi with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Zippel.

Creative: Directed by Lear deBessonet; choreography, Chase Brock;  sets, Dane Laffrey; costumes, Andrea Hood; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Kai Harada; puppetry, James Ortiz; orchestrations, Danny Troob and Joseph Joubert; music supervisor, arranger, conductor, Michael Kosarin; production stage manager, Rick Steiger; production manager, Caity Joy Smith.

Cast: Jelani Alladin, Roger Bart, Krysta Rodriguez, James Monroe Iglehart, Jeff Hiller, Ramona Keller, Tamika Lawrence, Rema Webb, Broadway Inspirational Voices, 10 Hairy Legs, Passaic High School Marching Band and many more.

More Legit

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

  • A Very Expensive Poison review

    London Theater Review: 'A Very Expensive Poison'

    Vladimir Putin owes his power to the stage. The president’s closest advisor trained as a theatre director before applying his art to politics, and ran Russia like a staged reality, spinning so many fictions that truth itself began to blur. By scrambling the story and sowing confusion, Putin could exert absolute control. The long-awaited latest [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    Broadway Review: 'Betrayal' With Tom Hiddleston

    and Zawe Ashton as a long-married couple and Charlie Cox as the secret lover. Director Jamie Lloyd’s impeccable direction — now on Broadway, after a hot-ticket London run — strips Pinter’s 1978 play to its bare bones: the excruciating examination of the slow death of a marriage.  It’s a daring approach, leaving the characters nowhere [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content