My Variety Review: Disney's 'Hercules' In Central Park
What makes a hero?” are the first words in “Hercules,” the playful and sweet-spirited stage production based on the 1997 animated Disney film premiering in Central Park as part of the Pubic Theater’s Public Works program. Now tweaked for 2019 sensibilities, it’s a smart, funny and tuneful show that is also part pageant, complete with a marching band, an epic kick line and a cityscape populated with plenty of New Yorkers.
The scope and local involvement inherent in Public Works means this stage show’s future probably lies more in community-centric productions rather than on Broadway. The emotional impact of the show and its grading-on-a-curve kindness rests on this connection — not unlike the work Cornerstone Theater Company has done for decades. Minus that, though, it would still have many pleasures, just not the same purpose.
Lear Debessonet directs an all-ages cast of some 200 — mostly culled from community organizations from the five boroughs — with efficiency, energy and a keen sense of traffic control, allowing many to have their moments in the spotlight.
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz (“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”) neatly adapts the screenplay and keeps the 90-minute narrative brisk as it follows half-god, half-mortal Hercules, here son of Zeus and Hera, as he must prove himself a hero to regain his fully-divine status.
Diaz further punches up and updates the sassy script sprinkled with Greek reference, musical insider nods and realness. When Hercules asks how can he show his heroic skills, a citizen snaps, “Can you help me find affordable housing?” Meanwhile, Hercules’ love interested Megara (Krysta Rodriguez) no longer is a faux-albeit-feisty damsel but rather someone who can take care of herself; and to answer the show’s opening question: Heroism comes from a united, activist hoi polloi battling demons and devils and taking control of its own destiny.