The musical theater program of the University of Cincinnati - Conservatory of Music (CCM) has a strong reputation of producing quality performers and showcases for these talented students. In addition to their "Mainstage Series", the college also presents a number of free workshop productions annually through their "Studio Series". These performances usually feature younger students in lesser known musicals. Past shows have included In Trousers, Celebration, and Rags. The Fall 2000 selection continues this tradition with Adam Guettel's Myths and Hymns.
Originally staged Off-Broadway under the title Saturn Returns, this musical revue explores humans' relationship with gods of old and new. Myths and Hymns musicalizes the ancient stories of the Greek and Roman gods, while also expressing modern attachments to our singular God. Composer and lyricist Guettel, the son of Mary Rodgers and grandson of Richard Rodgers, is often referred to as one of musical theater's "composers of the future", along with other relative newcomers Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa, Jeanine Tesori, and Andrew Lippa, among others. The score of Myths and Hymns, like that of Guettel's earlier Off-Broadway effort Floyd Collins, is sophisticated, interesting, and filled with unexpected melodies and intricate lyrics. His writing style has been described as "inaccessible", and it may very well require multiple hearings by most to fully appreciate the score of Myths and Hymns. Guettel's work may prove to be the least commercially successful of his contemporaries based on his attempts to shape songs that are intelligent and different, though not generally "pretty". His talent and abilities are not to be overlooked however. Myths and Hymns is structured as a revue, with no through plot. Guettel is more successful with his "Myths" songs than his "Hymns," though "Come To Jesus" is already becoming a favorite of many thanks to Audra McDonald's recording of the song on her solo album.
The CCM students and faculty do their usual excellent job with this production. The cast of eight were strong singers and there were especially memorable performances by Kathryn Manning and Will Ray. Director R. Terrell Finney, Jr. has allowed the company to assist in the staging conception of the show with some success. Pianist Chris Fenwick serves as sole accompanist (with the exception of the effective use of pre-recorded percussion on one song) and Musical Director. The minimal set and props are used well and the costumes and lighting are appropriate and attractive. There were a few problems with the sound at the performance attended, but it was generally satisfactory.
CCM is to be applauded for
providing great opportunities for their students to learn and also for
producing these lesser known modern theater pieces. Lucky Stiff, a
musical by Lynn Ahrens and CCM graduate Stephen Flaherty (Once On This
Island, Ragtime, Seussical) is scheduled for Spring 2001. Myths and Hymns ran from 11/30 - 12/2.
-- Scott Cain