Review: Public Works Finds the Heroism in ‘Hercules’

Review: Public Works Finds the Heroism in ‘Hercules’

As Meg, Krysta Rodriguez nails the show’s new take, biting into her songs (including a tougher version of the movie’s “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)”) and a terrific new first-date scene that establishes the character as fully modern. It’s no accident that unlike anyone else in the production, Meg wears skinny jeans and a leather jacket.

And though the bluesy new number for Hades thankfully does nothing to reframe the material or remediate his villainy, “A Cool Day in Hell” does give Mr. Bart, who sang Hercules’s songs in the movie and now looks like he woke up on the bad side of a bender, a chance to show off his comic mastery. If the amateur cast is for the most part enthusiastically adequate to its tasks — and in some cases you’d be hard pressed to guess whether they are Equity members or not — the show wouldn’t work without a Hades who knows how to wrap an audience in his palm and squeeze.

All this makes “Hercules” something of a one-off in the Public Works catalog, and also in Disney’s. It is caught between opposing monsters: the commercial and communitarian imperative.

I don’t know whether Disney is considering a stage future for this adaptation, or whether the Public Works partners and affiliates in nine cities around the country may wish to take it on, but either constituency would find it rather difficult. Even the formidable Mr. Menken and Mr. Zippel did: A couple of the additional songs, despite nifty lyrics, lay eggs. (They’d work in a movie, though.) And the staging of the requisite battle scenes, despite gorgeous puppets by James Ortiz, defeats the logistical efforts of Ms. deBessonet and her team.

The resulting confusion was of little import on a gorgeous Labor Day eve in front of an audience primed to hoot at lines like “You’ve become a celebrity. That is not the same thing as being a hero.” And when the citizens of Thebes asked Hercules to prove his strength by helping with affordable housing, the 1,800 or so citizens at the Delacorte lapped it up like ambrosia.

But it was ambrosia with an afterkick. The biggest change made in “Hercules” may be the hardest one to make in real life. Public Works has turned it into a much more significant story, one in which everyone, not just the stud in the toga, has to learn to be a hero.

Hercules

Tickets Through Sept. 8 at the Delacorte Theater, Manhattan; 212-539-8500, publictheater.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

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