Let’s face it: Fringe is rough for parents. The festival is rife with artistic performances that range from intellectual and artistic to profane and hyper-sexualized. As a longtime member of the 18+ population, I say huzzah. For parents with young ones who want in on the fun, however, The Young Olympians is a welcome respite.
To be clear, The Young Olympians is not simply safe for children; it is exclusively for children.
The Young Olympians is an in-your-face musical odyssey through Greek Mythology, with school-aged heroes Hercules (Francis Mwale), Jason (Joe Jalette, sans Argonauts), Perseus (Thom Huenger) and Andromeda (Caitlyn Joy) starting off on a field trip to Mount Olympus. The Greek gods Zeus (Rich Cole) and Poseidon (Reiner Prochaska) stand ready to greet the children, only to find themselves suddenly infantilized and struck with a bout of amnesia after drinking a poisoned cup of ambrosia.
To no one’s surprise, it’s up to the little heroes to root out the villain and restore the gods to their rightful place.
The Young Olympians offers a mixed bag as Maryland Ensemble Theater’s (MET) debut at the Capital Fringe Festival. The script, a product of local playwright Sarah Shulman, is much the same. Sometimes manic, sometimes listless, the heroes’ journey from Olympus to Underworld can leave children confused and parents checking their watch. At the same time, Shulman does deliver an engaging play with clear direction, effective subplots and moralistic messages that ring in the spirit of classic children’s theater.
The musical numbers unfortunately create some cringe-worthy moments as the ensemble’s limited voices stretch beyond their reach. Performances from Thom Huenger and Caitlyn Joy stand out, but the overall effort is – putting it kindly – overambitious. Likewise, Lisa Burl’s impish portrayal of Hermes shows a subdued confidence in her character, in stark contrast to the cartoonish over-acting of other cast members.
The Young Olympians and The Most Amazingly Awesome Adventure Ever!
by Sarah Shulman
at Studio Theatre – Stage 4
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20005
Details and tickets
Remember though, this is children’s theater. Rich Cole’s depiction of a deteriorating Zeus is passable, but he wins smiles from beginning to end with some brave and delightful self-deprecation. Thom Huenger presents a bookish trope to his Perseus that kids will recognize while Caitlyn Joy’s Andromeda offers someone with whom aspiring young heroines in the audience can identify. In the end, the entire cast is likeable enough to overlook a ham-fisted approach that leads to some missed opportunities at subtle humor.
The standout performances in this musical tale of heroes ironically come from the (literally) unsung heroes of the play. Renee Gerrard delivers solid puppetry with expertly designed puppets and props throughout, eliciting chuckles from young and old. MET’s first-rate costuming, setwork and sound effects offer much-needed artistry that makes the performance feel polished.
The overall effort would be in real trouble without a Herculean push from the backstage crew, but their work leaves The Young Olympians in fair condition.
Is it really the “Most Amazingly Awesome Adventure Ever!” as the title suggests? Not really. Adult fans of the genre should not take the “all ages” rating too literally, as Young Olympians is not for you. Nor is this even a “must see” for parents with children.
It is, however, a fun and spirited ride that young viewers will enjoy and remember.