Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Medea: The Musical is a Wacky Production on Adrenaline
John Fisher's Medea: The Musical is back in town at the Theatre Rhinoceros through July 17th. This zany musical was first presented at the University of California in Berkeley in 1996, and John Fisher was declared the new cutting edge director of the theatre world in San Francisco. The weird and wonderful musical soon moved over to the city, where it played to sell-out audiences in three successive theatres. It racked up six Bay Area Critic Circle Awards including Best Musical Production, Best Original Script and Best Direction. The musical has also played in Los Angeles where it was awarded in 1999 by the Los Angeles Weekly as Best Musical plus the GLADD Media award for best musical. In 2000, Medea: The Musical was a sensation at the Artswest Playhouse in Seattle.
Fisher said in an interview in 1996 with Robert Hurwitt that the musical made fun of reinterpretations of the classics, especially by college productions. He said with tongue in cheek, "I wrote Medea in 1994 because I couldn't get the rights to Carrie: the Musical." Let's face it, it is a little dated since many of these type of musicals, including later musicals by John Fisher, have come along, but it still packs a wallop with its zaniness.
John Fisher's musical "extravaganza" is equal parts spoofing Euripides tragedy, Marx Brothers comedy, overly gay romp and callisthenic marvel. Leave all conventions of a regular camp musical behind when you enter the small theatre because John has thrown everything into this 2 hour 10 minute production, including a ghost of a Miwok maiden of Mount Tamalpais singing a Sigmund Romberg melody off key.
Yet, there is an intelligent examination of sexuality in this farce. Every actor completely overacts, but somehow you don't mind because this is supposed to be a theatrical university production of Euripides's Medea with Jason and his Argonauts as campy gay queens. Director Fisher hires Nathan (Nathan Baynard) to play the lead because this good looking gay man had great success in playing Hamlet like Bette Davis in a prior production. John Fisher has also brought a little of Racine's Phaedra into this mix, with characters hopping into each other's beds backstage as a subplot. I suppose you could call this a gay Noises Off, with the Euripides campy play interacting with an off-stage romance.
In Medea: The Musical, you never know what is coming next. The farce opens with a cast of the swishiest boys at Talent Night at Franklin Pangborn High School. You won't believe it, but these are the Argonauts cavorting about, insufficiently clad and looking for the Golden Fleece. Jason, who looks terrible in drag, meets the King of Colchis (Matt Weimer) and his children, who mince almost to a point of madness. Medea is one of the children, but it looks like Jason is more interested in Apsyrtus (Barry Kendall) and Hippolytus (Enrique Vallejo) the sons.
Medea goes a different route after these scenes when it focuses on Nathan off stage, beginning to question his homosexuality. He finds himself falling for leading lady Sarah (Sarah Mitchell) who is playing Medea. However, the whole cast is horrified that their hero is turning heterosexual, and the two press on for a "not normal" fling. There is intelligence about this relationship since Sarah uses Nathan to change the play to fit her principles just as Jason uses Medea to obtain the Golden Fleece. Fisher offers a splendid intermingling of modern comedy and Greek tragedy.
Songs like "New York, New York," "YMCA" and "Misty," I Will Survive," and "Copacabana" are spoofed with different and wild lyrics. The King wails over the dismembered limbs of his son, singing, "It's so sad, the effect of cut-up children on a dad" to the melody of the "Misty."
Choreography by Floriana Alessandria is strident but fun. The scene that takes place in a heterosexual dance club looks like everyone has taken too much Ecstasy. The opening of the second act with the "Dance of the Living Dead" has to be seen to be believed. Alessandria also plays the stage manager and a servant of Phaedra. Musical director pianist Eric de Lora gets into the act several times, explaining the keys of the piano while the troupe get ready to perform scenes from Euripides tragedy. He even gets to play a bunny. Don't ask why.
Each of the 14 member cast is great in their overacting, especially Enrique Vallejo as a boy toy who wants to show he is talented and not just another plaything with great pectorals; David Bicha, who is the cry baby last lover of Nathan; and Barry Kendall, who does not have a brain in his head. Jayson Matthews and Paul J. Hammonds are very good as punk rockers who worry about their vanishing youth. Nathan Baynard has wonderful panache as Nathan the actor playing Jason. Sarah Mitchell as Sarah and Medea is splendid and has good vocal chops when singing a song from Oklahoma!. Natalie Saibel as Phaedra has a show tune up her sleeve whenever she gets a chance. She is great in the role, especially when she gets "the hots" for her son. Ildiko Polony as Aphrodite, Matt Weimer as King of Colchis and Maryssa Wanless as Eros are hilarious in their roles. Greg Lucey, who has replaced Jeffrey Hartgraves as The Artisite of the production, is very uproarious on his extended walk-ons. John Fisher gets into the act as the director and author (what else) of the "college production." He plays the part like Zach in A Chorus Line, though without a romantic interlude with any of the cast members.
Medea: The Musical is irresistible, with great sight gags and sassy dialogue that sparkles with wit. It runs through July 17th at the Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th Street between South Van Ness and Mission in San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-5079 or visit their website www.therhino.org.
The Theatre Rhinoceros opens their 28th season with George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer on September 15th; it runs through October 15th.