That means, among other things, lyrics that rhyme (always perfectly, as far as I could tell), relate to the characters singing them, and burst with a witty inventiveness not typically reserved for the least-respected genre of musical theatre. Of course, avid followers of the Off-Off-Broadway scene have come to expect this of this of this show's authors, Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, who've spent the last several years writing musicals in the traditional musical-comedy idiom. They are, however, at least as adept at transforming theatre into a rock concert - and making a rock retelling of a classic play both newly alive and not at all incongruous.
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense: Whether examining F. Scott Fitzgerald's romance with Ginevra King through the lens of the Princeton Triangle Club drag shows in The Pursuit of Persephone, or refashioning The Producers for the Communist era with Iron Curtain, one of the duo's favorite topics has been the convoluted connections (and blurred barriers) between show business and real life. So what better way to reconceive The Bacchae, Euripides's 2400-year-old tragedy about the dangers of groupthink and sexual abandon, than by setting it against and within its contemporary cult-of-personality equivalent?
Euripides, however, remains mostly intact. Clocking in at a lean 90 minutes the show sacrifices only some of the original's more prophetic sections (the seer Tiresias, a frequent fixture of Greek tragedy, does not appear) but leaves the bulk of the plot and characters and intact. The addition of 13 songs doesn't hamper the storytelling - in fact, given the party-like-it's-99 atmosphere they even enhance many sections of the story by bringing the conflict between men and women straight onto the dance floor where choreographer Marlo Hunter injects them with an erotic, go-for-broke urgency strong enough to make you want to join in the reveling yourself.
But with songs this good, you're only missing out if you're not in the theater. Mills has unleashed four undisputed hits in the violently celebratory "Run to the Mountain," "Let the Bedrock Rock," "High on Cithaeron," and "Only Now," which pound through your veins and nerves with the same throbbing potency they surge through the sound system. The rest of the score, which is generally in the hard-rock mode but occasionally dips into folk, funk, and metal, doesn't quite reach these Olympian heights, but is nonetheless highly accomplished, whether Pentheus's laid-back, introductory "I Rule," retired king Cadmus (Gordon Stanley) distributing his knowledge of the world and the fates in "Be Wise," or the searing lament of Pentheus's mother (Meghan McGeary) over her disastrously devilish behavior.
With excellent voices from each of the 18 company members, piercing lighting (by Lily Fossner), and costumes (by David Withrow) that highlight every curve and line of the athletic, acrobatic Bacchae, what's missing? Very little. Oh, Reichel's staging lacks many of the visual pyrotechnics she's brought to her last few outings; and Cunio makes for an overly namby-pamby Dionysus, with a statuesque physique that alone doesn't command the proper devious authority this deity needs. But even with these minor blemishes, The Rockae is demonstrating that the fall is already looking a lot better than Spring.