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A CurtainUp Review

Hercules In High Suburbia
By Jenny Sandman

I've got a McMansion on the hill…We like our front lawns green and our neighbors white…. --Lycus
You'll take what I want to give you/And you will get it in the end.--Zeus
New Yorkers love to poke fun at suburbanites, especially pretentious ones, and so by that criterion alone Hercules in High Suburbia should be a hit. But it's also a funny, insightful, intriguingly inventive show, and best of all, it's a $15 ticket. There's just no excuse to miss it.

This new musical based on Euripedes' Heracles. Hercules and his nuclear family (wife Megara and their three boys) live in Thebes by the Sea, a gated suburban community where everyone drives SUVs and takes tennis lessons. While Hercules is in the underworld, filming a two-hour season finale for his new reality show,Megara is left to battle the homeowners' association on her own. Lycus, president of the homeowners' association, is trying to evict Hercules' family, ostensibly because they're too "ethnic" for the neighborhood.

Hercules returns just in time, but he has bigger problems than Lycus. It seems Zeus, his father, is taking heat from Hera, who wants Hercules dead. Hercules doesn't help matters by contracting a large case of hubris. Hera sends the Furies to drive him to madness. In a fit of temporary insanity he does indeed go berserk, and creates a bloodbath to rival Rambo's.

Songs such as "I've Got a McMansion on the Hill," "Because I'm God" are fresh and witty, most of them Meat Loaf-inspired rockabilly mixed with a blues twang. They're catchy and surprising, a perfect fit for the subversive, brainy humor of the text. The play ends on a more contemplative note, with a song about mortality, but then reprises the opener ("High Suburbia" to , bring the story full circle.

The actors are terrific, especially Ellen Foley as Hercules' wife, Megara. Best known as the second half of the famous duo in Meat Loaf's ""Paradise by the Dashboard Light,"" she's also a former VH-1 VJ, and her powerhouse vocal chords are one of the most enjoyable parts of the show. None of this is to downplay the other voices--Neal Young (Lycus) is delightfu as a smarmy political wimp, and Matt Landers plays Zeus like a singing Tony Soprano. Dana Vance is hysterical as Zeus' bleating satyr/caddy. Postel Pringle (Hercules) is less colorful than his counterparts, but he can belt it out as well. Led by Mary Fulham inspired writing and direction, the ensemble's comic timing is near impeccable. Most play multiple roles, and are versatile enough to pull them off.

The set and sound are equally inspired. The backdrops and set pieces have been cleverly designed to resemble architectural blueprints from suburban housing developments (you know, the ones where all the houses try to look different but are really the same). The sound effects blend a number of suburban noises, for a cacophony of car alarms, motorcycles, cell phones, barking dogs and lawnmowers.

I admit it, I'm not a huge fan of musicals. Never have been. But this one kept me laughing throughout; it's delightful.
Written and directed by Mary Fulham
Original songs by Paul Foglino
Musical direction and arrangements by Manny Moreira
With Hal Blankenship, Ellen Foley, Matt Landers, Postell Pringle, Dana Vance and Neal Young
Lighting Design by Jenn Gleason
Costume Design by Ramona Ponce
Set Design by Gregory John Mercurio
Sound Design by Tim Schellenbaum
Running time: One hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission
Watson Arts Project at LaMaMa ETC, 74 East 4th Street; 212-475-7710
4/15/04 to 5/02/04
Thursday through Sunday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm.
All tickets $15
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on April 18th performance
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