BWW Reviews: Vortex Rep's Original Musical SING MUSE is an Inspired and Clever Look at Mythology
There are so many words and phrases in this world that shouldn't go together, such as a cappella and musical, modern theater and ancient Greek mythology, and Miley Cyrus and respectable young artist. While I have no clue what Vortex Rep thinks of Miley, it seems that where the rest of us see things that don't go together, the artists at Vortex Rep see a theatrical opportunity. Their latest production, an original a cappella musical inspired by Greek mythology, is exciting, imaginative, and-with a few minor tweaks here and there-could become a favorite of regional theaters across the country (and I consider Off-Broadway as a region, too).
Sing Muse, which began development in 2011 and had a workshop last year, is inspired by the infrequently-told Greek myth of Thamyris. According to myth, Thamyris was an arrogant man who challenged the muses and lost. As punishment, the muses took away his sight and banished him to Hades. Thamyris was also the first man to fall in love with another man. Vortex combines both of the Thamyris myths but gives his stories a twist. It's thousands of years later, and the muses have given Thamyris one night to prove to them that he deserves his freedom.
The strengths of Sing Muse are founded primarily upon the text and score, both of which are collaborations between the cast, creative team, and director Rudy Ramirez. Though there are a few plot points and transitions that could be clearer, any tiny areas to improve are easy to overlook given the incredibly wit and cleverness of the show. There are plenty of quotable, laugh-inducing lines (one particular criticism of Disney's Hercules is particularly hysterical), and the songs are fantastic. A blues number in the first act brings down the house, and "Remember Us" which closes the show is a breathtaking ballad which I'm sure will be heard at many an audition if this show gets the national attention it deserves. A cappella or not, the songs are outstanding, and the musical arrangements by Chelsea Manasseri give them so much color that you quickly forget that they're nothing more than human voices, foot stomps, and finger snaps.
The work also succeeds due to its ability to create ten characters with specific, unique, and individual personalities. It may take a while to warm up to Jonathan Itchon's angry and arrogant Thamyris, but that's no fault of his. As his character has been imprisoned for thousands of years, we can certainly understand his anger. The problem is that we meet the muses first and instantly fall in love with them. As soon as we find that Thamyris isn't a fan of the muses, we shut him out, and it takes him quite a while to win us back. But when Itchon finally gets to be vulnerable as he does late in the show, we're putty in his hands.
And why do we favor the muses so much? It's easy. Each of the nine actresses that play them are spectacular. Melissa Vogt-Patterson plays Erato, the Muse of Love, as someone who feels appropriately betrayed and wounded by Thamyris's belief that she failed him, causing him to be left by his lover. As Euterpe, the Muse of Music, Chelsea Manasseri belts her solo number to the heavens, and Michelle Alexander is terrific as Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry and the commanding leader of the pack. Leslie Hollingsworth is equally wonderful as the cynical, emo Muse of Tragedy, Melpomene. But the true stand out is Karen Rodriguez as Thalia, the scene-stealing Muse of Comedy. She's quirky, over-the-top, gets laugh after laugh, and the muse you'd most like to have a drink with. As Thalia says of herself, she's "totally friggin' awesome."
As Sing Muse concerns itself with the Goddesses of Inspiration, it's not surprising that the show itself is inspired. While I may have some minor criticisms, Sing Muse is by and large one of the most imaginative and original musicals to come along in a long while. It is entertaining from beginning to end, and with a bit more work, it's bound to become a favorite around the country. This is a muse-ical to please the Gods.
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Note: Due to adult language, recommended for mature audiences only.
SING MUSE plays The Vortex Theatre at 2307 Manor Road, Austin 78722 now thru September 14th. Performances are Thursday - Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $10-$30. For tickets and more information, please visit www.vortexrep.com