There has been a rise in the number of female heroes as the focus of children’s entertainment in recent years—be it the passionate and fiery Merida in Pixar’s Brave or the smart and determined Katniss of the Hunger Games, these characters are giving girls of all ages someone to root for.
The trend continues with the Kennedy Center’s world premiere production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes, a musical that tells the story of a young orphan who overcomes challenge after challenge in Ancient Greece, to become a true hero.
Set in the world of Homer and the Greek mythology he wrote about, the musical gives hope to children of both genders that anything is possible. Yes, it was particularly loved by the girls in the audience who were delighted to see that Orphie is successful at the end of her journey, but the boys in the crowd were having just as good a time, as there was nothing “girly” about the production.
With my 8-year-old daughter Cassidy joining me, finding laugher at every turn, I was able to better appreciate some of the jokes that were clearly aimed at her generation, such as the Greek citizen who uttered “O-M-Zeus” when he was surprised. Not that there wasn’t enough to keep us “old folks” entertained. There was plenty of intelligent humor thrown in, such as a hilarious scene involving the boarding process at an airport.
With book and lyrics by Christopher Diamond and music by Michael Kooman, Orphie and the Book of Heroes is a true delight. The songs were funny, memorable and had the kids dancing in their seats at times. One potent number involving the Lord of the Underworld dancing in a dress is not to be missed.
As the title character of Orphie, Lauren Du Pree is lovely in voice and has a great presence on the stage. Playing young isn’t always easy, but Du Pree was able to make us see the young, frightened orphan who longs to find a hero yet becomes one herself.
Christopher Bloch as the famed Homer looks the part (thanks to costume designer Timm Burrow) and presents a lovable father figure. His character is blind, and the show does go a little too far with some of the “sight” gags pertaining to this.
A standout number by Evan Casey as half-man, half-god Heracles gets the Kennedy Center rocking, with a few fun pop culture references thrown about. Heracles is not exactly the type of hero that Orphie was expecting when she meets him.
Although playing the dark and villainous Hades, Thomas Adrian Simpson is such a hoot that there’s no fear in the children of the dastardly character. Dressed in Devil red, Simpson has some of the funniest lines in the show, and knows how to milk his character for all its worth.
Orphie and the Book of Heroes
Closes February 25, 2014
The Kennedy Center
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20566
1 hour, 15 minutes
Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays
The one negative from Cassidy is that Gia Mora, who play Persephone, wife of Hades, uses an accent that’s a bit hard to understand. I’ll add that it was a little unclear who the character was and if she was being held captive by Hades or just unhappy with her writing.
Rounding out the cast are Paul Scanlan, Samuel Edgerly and Evan Caset, who each take on several roles and provide great harmonies throughout the production.
I’m always impressed when a show can appeal to both young and old without pandering to either generation, and Orphie and the Book of Heroes certainly achieves that. At a time when going to the movies will run you as much as a theater ticket, this musical is a much better buy than some of the fare out there right now on the movie screens (I’m looking at you The Nut Job) and it will provide as much heart and love as Frozen captured this winter.
If your child is looking for a new hero—the Kennedy Center is the place to be.
Orphie and the Book of Heroes . Book and lyrics by Christopher Dimond . Music by Michael Kooman . Directed by Joe Calarco . Choreography by Karma Camp . Featuring Chris Bloch as Homer, Lauren Du Pree as Orphie, Evan Casey, Sam Edgerly, Gia Mora, Paul Scanlan, and Thomas Adrian Simpson . Set design: Tony Cisek . Costume design: Timm Burrow . Lighting design: Dan Covey . Sound design: Matt Rowe . Puppetry: Ingrid Crepeau . Music direction: Jenny Cartney . Produced by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Keith Loria.