It's an age-old epic, a science-fiction adventure, a bunraku puppet show and a rock musical all wrapped up in one. It's the world premiere of Atlanta Shakespeare Company's Myth, a musical version of Homer's The Odyssey. Set in outer space and following the journey of Odysseus and her crew back to the planet Ithaca from planet Troy, Myth opens June 27, and runs through Aug. 23.
After 12 years of Shakespeare and other straight plays, the Tavern's first original musical, despite its science-fiction setting, is faithful to Homer's original storyline, beginning with Odysseus being captive to the goddess Calypso. "But despite all the adventure and running around" Myth co-creator, librettist, lyricist and director Tony Wright told Playbill On-Line, "it's a story about one person trying to get home to the person they love." In the case of this Myth, Odysseus is striving to return to husband Pan.
The concept for Myth, now in development for more than two years, grew out of the Tavern's original campy science-fiction drama series Time in a Battle and Time Master. The "Time Series," developed by Wright, was originally created to show off stage combat. Characters traveled through time in order to showcase all the great era's of weaponry and to highlight fight scenes.
The "Time Series" plays were underscored by in-house composers Bo Ketchin and Matthew Trautwein, classically trained musicians who write original music for the Tavern's Shakespeare shows. After collaborating with Wright, writing a few rock songs for Time Master, Wright decided he wanted to collaborate on a full scale musical.
"The idea for The Odyssey came to me because it's a vehicle very well suited for being a musical. The characters lend themselves to musicals so well . . .The science-fiction makes it more modern and accessible." "I'm very into using song to tell the story through song." Wright continues. "The Cyclops has a blues number. 'The One-Eyed Blues.'"
Myth promises to be very different from both the "Time Series" and the Broadway musical adaptation Home Sweet Homer starring Yul Brynner, which closed after one performance in 1976. Wright says of ASC audiences, "They may be expecting a campy, escapist comic book stage play, and Myth shares the fun and adventure, but its not. It's a classic musical--I understand the classic musical format and it follows it."
Furthermore, all the effects in Myth are created with bunraku puppets (a Japanese theatre tradition of large puppets operated by human bodies). "Theatre shouldn't try to compete with the high-tech mediums of film and television," says Wright. "[We create} the effects of Scylla and Cyclops all in bunraku . . . They are fairly sizeable props."
The puppets are created by Mike Schwabe, of Chicago's Hystopolis Puppet Theatre.
According to Wright, the music harks back to the '70s supergoups like Yes. "I love the music," he says, "The composers are classically trained. They bring that sound to it. . .It's classical yet electric."
All the music is electrically produced, through four rock musicians on drums, bass, guitar, violin, and keyboards. The performers, featuring Atlanta actress Tracy Gotts as Odysseus, sport wireless headsets. Wright feels the obvious mikes work really well in Myth. "Unlike in Rent," he says, "the science fiction setting, being on a ship. . .wearing the gear never seems unnatural."
Thirteen actors play over 50 characters, in the 177-seat theatre. Much of the music has been recorded, and after the production, Wright plans to finish it, along with the script, to offer a recording and a publishable version of the text. Although there are no plans to extend or expand Myth, Wright says it will be set for anyone interested in doing a mid-sized musical.
The journey begins June 27 at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, GA. For tickets or more information, call (404) 874-5299, or refer to the Shakespeare Tavern regional listing on Playbill On-Line.
--By Blair Glaser