By Tulis McCall
The only element missing from the Public Theater’s free Public Works production of The ODYSSEY is a partridge in a pear tree. They have the other 11 days of any holiday you can name more than covered, thank you very much. This is the old story of a king, Odysseus (Brandon Victor Dixon), without a country struggling to find his way back to his home where his wife Penelope (Karen Olivo) and son Telemachus (Jabari Johnson) and son are in big trouble. The populace has lost hope and the bad guys are taking over the town.
This story, like all the Public Works productions, has a lemon twist. Although the writing credits are simply “Homer”, the narrating, music and lyrics come from the team of Lear Debessonet & Todd Almond. Once again, these two are a formidable team.
And once again this spectacular creation has a total of four performances.
This is a little like those sand sculptures that the monks create, and once it is finished they sweep is up or it is blown asunder by the wind. This is all about love and joy and people getting together for the sheer pleasure of giving.
Almond and DeBessonet stick to the bones of the story – Odysseus is waylaid, imprisoned and shipwrecked. Penelope is practically imprisoned by marauders who want her body and her country. We are treated to magic islands and their inhabitants, sirens with their seductive songs, concerned citizens decked out in meticulous 1950’s garb. In addition Mr. Almond and his backup singers, The Calliopes (Kelly Campbell, Joanna Fuentes and Mayelen Permodo) keep the story rocking.
The entire ensemble consists of roughly 100 people from every borough, representing everything from motorcycle clubs to recreational centers. The talent pool ranges from the exceptional – Dixon and Olivo are positively glorious – to the unflinching and determined ranging in age from 5 to very very senior. The crowd in the audience is less like the typical Shakespeare In the Park attendees and more like an old fashioned Brooklyn Dodgers pack of thieves.
We marvel at the soaring arias; we boo the bad guys; we cheer the drummers and the ladies in green from head to toe. It is a spectacular evening. One of the Public Theater staff members, doing her bit to cover for the rest of the team away on holiday, said that this Public Works is the show she sneaks off to watch rehearsing if she is having a hard day. It restores her every time.
As it will you if you can swan over and pick up YOUR free tickets today or tomorrow. Seriously, you are not at your second home in the Hamptons. You are at your first home in the city. Treat yourself to one of the best gifts that New York has to offer.
THE ODYSSEY, conceived and directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet, with music, lyrics and book by Todd Almond
With Todd Almond, Brandon Victor Dixon, Andy Grotelueschen, Karen Olivo, Lucas Caleb Rooney
Community Partners – Brownsville Recreation Center, The Children’s Aid Society, Domestic Workers United, The Dreamyard Project, Fortune Society
Cameo Groups – The Bobby Lewis Ensemble, The D.R,E.A.M. Ring, Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana Ii, The Marching Cobras, The New York Youth Symphony, Tada! Youth Theater, Riders From The Old Bones Motorcycle Club, N.Y.C. Fire Riders, And Mlc Crew Riding Club
The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) presents the the community-based Public Works production of Homer’s THE ODYSSEY. This original musical adaption will run for four nights only through Sunday, September 7 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Free tickets will be distributed, two per person, at 12:00 p.m. on the day of the show at the Delacorte Theater and via the Virtual Ticketing lottery at www.publictheater.org.