So you want to hear the whole story of the house of Atreus in one silly ditty? And be beguiled by the retelling of other classic myths? Come to the New York premiere of a delightful new musical called Narcissus and Echo.
Beginning with a tuneful girl's trio, "Respect me tomorrow, but love me tonight" à la the Supremes, this production starts out feeling very Rodgers and Hart. The book jumps from one buh-dum-dum joke to another. Indeed, the narrator, Cupid (Darren Buck), is a stand-up comic. Lines like, "I must be in love, I've never had spontaneous underscoring," occur frequently. And like pre-Oklahoma musicals, songs can appear without any convincing reason. As when two characters fall in love and decide that every couple needs a song. So they make one up: "They're playing our song." Overall the lyrics are clever if hokey. The music is sometimes clunky, but fun. The plot premise is thin, though well-constructed in its farce mode.
Then something unexpected occurs. Psyche makes an appearance. Not in the form of a character, but in the music and in the subtext. It happens in the first departure from the 1940s style, in -- surprisingly -- a country-music tune. Hera (Amy Warshaw) sings "When will the flowers be for me?" lamenting the loss of Zeus's affection. But the emotional depth becomes even more pronounced when Echo loses her voice, except to repeat what others say. In an unconventional move, the director/choreographer, John James Hickey, with astonishing evocation, brings out the other characters as a back-up chorus to her song "I never took a chance on love." They never sing along to this haunting melody, but rather move in flowing movements that serve as a mournful backdrop, highlighting the forlorn situation of this now cursed character.
Some of the most clever bookwriting also occurs around the scenes when Echo is trying to make herself understood by selectively repeating back words spoken to her with appropriate inflections.
The story becomes a melancholy and ultimately fulfilling journey.
Gregory Bradley as Zeus, Amy Warshaw as Hera, Amy Persons as Daphne, and Darren Buck as Cupid all play their parts well. Brian Tillotson plays an affectionate, confused Narcissus (he is told he is a lesbian). But Shannon Polly takes Olympus by storm, particularly in her hilarious portrayal of Zeus in Echo's body.
The set, designed by Merope Vachliotis, was a beautiful classic-columned Greek sylvan glade. Linda Cho's costumes placed us squarely in the fashionable world of the Greek gods and goddesses. Lighting by Susan Hamburger -- including blinking lights when characters reach orgasm with Zeus offstage, and spooky flickers when Hera places her curses -- added to the effective production values. Music direction by Heather Edwards was solid.
Book: 2/Lyrics: 1/Score: 1
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Copyright 1999 James A. Lopata