×

Off Broadway Review: ‘Hercules’

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

With:
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.

Popular on Variety

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.

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

  • Grand Horizons review

    'Grand Horizons': Theater Review

    Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one, as you surely must have: A nice, all-American family is in the process of breaking up and trying to make this sad state of affairs seem funny in Bess Wohl’s Broadway outing “Grand Horizons.” After 50 years of marriage, Nancy (the ever-elegant Jane Alexander) and Bill (the [...]

  • Uncle Vanya review

    'Uncle Vanya': Theater Review

    Director Ian Rickson has had success with Chekhov in the past. His exquisitely balanced, tragicomic production of “The Seagull” (2007 in London, 2008 on Broadway) was well-nigh flawless with, among others, Kristin Scott Thomas as painfully vulnerable as she was startlingly funny. Sadly, with his production of “Uncle Vanya,” despite felicities in the casting, lightning [...]

  • The Welkin review

    'The Welkin': Theater Review

    A life hanging perilously in the balance of charged-up, polarized opinions: This courtroom drama could easily have been titled “Twelve Angry Women.” But playwright Lucy Kirkwood (“Chimerica,” “The Children”) is far too strong and imaginative a writer for so hand-me-down a cliché. Instead she opts for “The Welkin,” an old English term for the vault [...]

  • Tina Fey attends the "Mean Girls"

    Tina Fey Announces Movie Adaptation of Broadway's 'Mean Girls' Musical

    It’s good to be mean…the “Mean Girls” musical, that is. Producers of the hit Broadway show announced today that the Tony-nominated production is being adapted for the big screen for Paramount Pictures. The musical is based on the 2004 movie of the same name. “I’m very excited to bring ‘Mean Girls’ back to the big screen,’ Tina Fey, [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

  • Ariana Grande 7 Rings

    Rodgers & Hammerstein Are Having a Moment Thanks to Ariana Grande, 'Oklahoma!'

    Jaws dropped when it was revealed that the late musical theater titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were granted 90% of the songwriting royalties on “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande’s 2019 No. 1 hit. The dominant motif of Grande’s song is taken from “My Favorite Things,” the cornerstone of R&H’s 1959 musical “The Sound of [...]

  • A Soldiers Play review

    'A Soldier's Play': Theater Review

    Now, that’s what I call a play! Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play,” now being revived on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, packs plenty of dramatic tension into smoldering issues of racial justice and injustice, military honor and dishonor, and the solemn struggle to balance their harrowing demands on characters who are only [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content