American musical theater legend Alan Menken strikes gold again with his new iteration of Hercules at Paper Mill Playhouse until March 19. This Disney production has all the style, great production values, and great casting we all have come to expect whenever Disney creates another musical milestone. Hercules is a winner.
Hercules has Music by genius Alan Menken, Lyrics by David Zippel, and Book by Robert Horn and Kwame Kwei-Armah, based upon the Disney film. The plot diverges significantly from the Greek myth of Hercules. The classic story has him as the illegitimate son of Alcmene and Zeus, which infuriates Zeus’ wife Hera, who sends a deadly serpent to kill the child in its cradle, but is dispatched by the wee godling. Instead, Disney makes the myth more wholesome by having Hercules (played to handsome, wholesome perfection by Bradley Gibson) as the legitimate son of Zeus and Hera (played by, respectively, Dennis Stowe and Kristen Faith Oei). The villain is Zeus’ brother Hades, Lord of the Underworld (Broadway legend Shuler Hensley). Disney follows formula with having the villainous Hades portrayed as a posh, well-spoken, erudite gay who drips witty bon mots and quips which no one really can appreciate except for his quisling gay servants and yes men Pain and Panic, played with comedic panache and requisite flounce by Ben Roseberry and Jeff Blumenkrantz. Broadway legend James Montoe Inglehart is Phil, coach to the innocent, young Hercules, who commands the stage with ease and grandeur.
Parents, rest assured that your offspring will learn that there are Muses (here five, not nine), and the all-important Three Fates who end the lives of mortals by cutting their thread of life. Spoiler alert: the only death in the entire musical happens to illustrate when the Fates cut the human thread of life, a hapless human perishes.
Liberty has been taken with the plot. A kind woman named Despina (played with saintly aura by Kathryn Allison) rescues Hercules before Pain and Panic do him in. Isabelle McCalla is the spunky feminist who can prevail over any man, yet is enthralled by Hades who holds title to her soul. Three men work the fabulous monsters, Jesse Nager as Nessus, with Jason W. McCollum and Marcus Cobb as frightening, lumbering Titans. Along with Puppet Captain (this is Disney!) Skye Mattox, they work a marvelously deadly and magical hydra. The fabulous Puppet Design and direction is thanks to the demigod James Ortiz. You need to see Pain and Panic as tiny tots to appreciate even more of his magic.
Hercules is a visually beautiful, fast-paced musical with a live orchestra, excellent dancers, singers, special effects, sets and lighting. Don’t wait. See Hercules today.
Disney’s musical Hercules will be at the historic, lovely Paper Mill Playhouse in suburban Millburn, NJ, until March 19, 2023. Many performances are sold out, but there may be standby tickets. It will undoubtedly head to Broadway.
For information and tickets, visit www.PaperMill.org .