By Victoria L. Dammer
Who can forget the critically acclaimed 1997 Disney animated musical comedy film Hercules? The outstanding and award-winning movie is currently attracting full-house crowds in an unforgettable production, thanks to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.
The Oscar-nominated song Go the Distance wows the audience, and other memorable tunes include Cool Day in Hell and One Last Hope, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Zippel.
Hercules, The Mythical Musical Adventure, is the Ancient Greek story of the main character with the same name, played by Bradley Gibson. It is the typical Disney storyline of how someone fights adversity and wins. Love also plays a vital role in this timeless tale.
The five Muses, Thalia (Anastacia McCleskey), Terpsichore (Destinee Rea), Clio (Charity Angel Dawson), Calliope (Tiffany Mann), and Melpomene (Rashidra Scott) musically narrated the story. A mix of both R&B and gospel is what the songs are about. The Muses’ six costume changes are dazzling during their performances of Gospel Truth I, II, III, IV, V, and VI dispersed throughout the production.
Chase Brock and Tanisha Scott choreographed the dance moves, and you could look around the room and see that every patron wanted to be on their feet, dancing to the music. Kudos to that.
The story starts as Hercules’ mother, Hera (Kristen Faith Oei), and father, Zeus (Dennis Stowe), rejoice upon the birth of their son, but Zeus’ wicked brother Hades (Shuler Hensley) plots to murder Hercules and overtake Mount Olympus. So Hades sends his pathetic lackeys Pain (Reggie De Leon) and Panic (Jeff Blumenkrantz) to poison the baby. Still, they are inept, which results in Hercules being mortal but having exceptional strength. Pain and Panic are comical characters; the audience is in stitches with their performances.
When Hercules reaches young adulthood, he is overtly strong but struggles to find where he belongs in the mortal world. He visits the Temple of Zeus, and his father tells him he needs to become a “true hero.” He thinks his physical strength is the road back to being a god. In Go the Distance, Hercules defines his paradox:
“But I won’t lose hope, ’till I go the distance, and my journey is complete, oh yeah. But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part. For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart.” Gibson not only has the brawn to dress in a toga, but he has the voice of a deity.
Hercules meets former hero trainer Phil, played by James Monroe Iglehart, who has failed in all his previous attempts to produce a hero. Many will remember Iglehart for his Tony and Drama Desk Award performance of the Genie in the original Broadway production of Aladdin. His intense dancing physicality and booming voice entertained the audience with words from One Last Hope:
“I’m down to my one last hope, and I hope it’s you. Though, kid, you’re not exactly a dream come true. I’ve trained enough turkeys who never came through. You’re my one last hope, so you’ll have to do.”
With a combination of dry, hysterical humor, Hades sang “Cool Day in Hell” to the delight of all.
Hercules encounters Meg (Isabelle McCalla), who has sold her soul to Hades and does his bidding. She tries to trick Hercules into performing an act of salvation, and he fights a series of monsters sent by Hades and is victorius in crushing them. Hercules becomes a celebrated hero and falls in love with Meg.
I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) showcases the vocal talent of McCalla, who previously starred as Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway. Hades banishes Meg to the underworld, and Hercules risks his life to save her. Exposing the strength of his heart, he becomes a “true hero.” In the end, Hercules chooses Meg over godhood and remains on earth.
Hercules is a must-see before it plays on Broadway and is now playing through March 19th.
Running time is approximately 120 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Disney’s Hercules, The Mythical Musical Adventure, is based on the Disney film Hercules, written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, and Irene Mecchi and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
Hercules, The Mythical Musical Adventure, starring (in alphabetical order) Jeff Blumenkrantz, Charity Angel Dawson, Reggie De Leon, Bradley Gibson, Shuler Hensley, James Monroe Iglehart, Tiffany Mann, Isabelle McCalla, Anastacia McCleskey, Destinee Rea and Rashidra Scott.
Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by David Zippel; book by Robert Horn and Kwame Kwei-Armah; scenic design by Dane Laffrey; costume design by Emilio Sosa; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; sound design by Kai Harada; puppet design by James Ortiz; hair and wig design by Mia M. Neal; make-up design by Kirk Cambridge-Del Pesche; special effects design by Jeremy Chernick; casting by Tara Rubin Casting Felicia Rudolph, CSA; production state management by Holly Coombs; associate director Adrian A. Alea; associate choreographer Chloe Campbell; dance music arrangements by Mark Hummel; music director and conductor Ted Arthur; orchestrations by Danny Troob and Joseph Joubert; music supervision and arrangements by Michael Kosarin; choreography by Chase Brock and Tanisha Scott; directed by Lear DeBessonet.
The Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Tickets can be purchased at https://papermill.org/purchase-tickets/