Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre

Helen of Troy from an unusual perspective

By: May. 17, 2024
Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
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In performance now through June 2 is HOT THE MUSICAL, an entertaining and original new take on the Greek Mythology surrounding Helen of Troy and the Trojan Wars. The show is staged at Unicorn Theatre on Main Street.

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
Ashley Pankow as The Storyteller

This Helen (Maddie Robert) is as pretty as the poet Homer claimed.  She has a face that could have launched a thousand ancient ships, but an attitude and personality of a much more recent vintage. 

HOT THE MUSICAL features an infectious original score. Music and lyrics are by Lee Summit actor and composer/lyricist Shelly Verden, with a libretto by Verden and KC Director Sarah Crawford.  Christina Burton provides exceptional choreography with a nod to the late Bob Fosse.    

Seldom does a reviewer get to evaluate a world premiere engagement of a new musical play with this kind of heart and bones.  This one has a real chance to take the tough next step to eventual New York and wider production.

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
Maddie Robert as Helen

If you love developmental musical theatre and want a fun evening, HOT is not to be missed.   It has a super cast and high production values in a small, but more than adequate thrust stage theater.  Don’t be put off by the street-car construction in the neighborhood, HOT THE MUSICAL is worth the trouble.

New York is a notoriously difficult market to penetrate.  Producers have a tendency to greenlight projects that are cousins to shows that have already proven successful.  The risk is reduced.

HOT THE MUSICAL is completely original but reminds me of several other super shows.  Most prominent are 2019s HADESTOWN, and 1972s PIPPIN.

HADESTOWN was first performed in 2006 before hitting Broadway in 2019 and winning eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score. It continues its Broadway run today and has already birthed a successful road company. 

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
Aphrodite, Paris, and Athene sing

HADESTOWN, sources its roots to Greek Mythology and re-imagines the story of Orpheus.  PIPPIN retells the tale of the first son of the Emperor Charlemagne. Both shows share remarkable scores and similar non-sequitur attitudes. All three shows use a theatrical storyteller to guide the audience through the tale. 

Our Storyteller is an excellent Ashley Pankow.  In addition to her duties as storyteller and eventual goddess, Pankow performs thirty guitar parts as part of the onstage orchestra from wherever she happens to be on the stage.

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
Unhappy Helen with Minelaus

Helen is a hottie.  She is a daughter of Zeus and is thought to have been so divinely beautiful by a trick of the Gods. She has heard all the talk about her looks and is vaguely resentful.  There is more to Helen than just a pretty face.

Zeus is among the missing in Helen’s life and Helen wants to know why. A trio of Goddesses present compete while  screwing with Helen and each other. They are Aphrodite (Elaine Watson), Hera (Margo Mikkelson), and Athena (Shelby Floyd)

It is explained to Helen she must marry.  This is followed by a hastily mounted game/reality show where we meet Achilles (Darrington Clark), Odysseus (Collin O’Connor), Patroclus (Austin Skibbie) and Menelaus (Matthew Robison). Achilles is a warrior. Odysseus is a commander and traveler. Menelaus is the King of Sparta, but kind of a nerdy guy.  These worthies are to compete for the prize of Helen’s hand.  Helen is not too keen on the idea.

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
The three Goddesses

By elimination, Helen ends up with Menelaus.  She makes the best of the situation but is none too pleased.  At this point Paris (Scotty Sharp) from the Turkish city-state of Troy shows up.  He romances Helen and she runs off with him.  This kicks off the ten-year Trojan War.   

This cast of HOT THE MUSICAL is musically as good as it gets.  In collaboration with Verden, musical direction is by Ahafia Jurkiewicz-Miles who is also responsible for orchestrations.  There is not a single cast member that I would not pay to hear sing again.   The characters are multi-layered true to their time period but with a wink to the world in 2024.

Review: HOT THE MUSICAL at Unicorn Theatre
A finale you won't see coming

Scenic design is by Em Swensen.  The Unicorn puts a premium on off-stage space.  Several rolling platforms are used throughout the show in front of one main multi-leveled set.  Clever, but limited changes to one side or another of the rolling platform make maximum use of the main set pieces and we, the audience, get the idea. Lighting design by Alex Perry is specific and excellent throughout.

Tickets for HOT THE MUSICAL can be purchased at www.unicorntheatre.org or by telephone at 816-531-7529.

Photos courtesy of the Unicorn Theatre



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