In Greek mythology, messenger god Hermes and mortal Ariadne inhabit completely different stories. In Awake All Night, the two share a tale, although they are still separated by a long distance. This new musical, written and directed by Itai Yasur, casts Ariadne as a college student. Hermes is her boyfriend—probably her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, we realize early on. The musical presents a marathon all-night phone call between the pair as Hermes attempts to compose the perfect song for Ariadne.
One major problem with this musical: the phone conceit just doesn’t work. Ariadne and Hermes cannot exchange facial expressions, and they definitely can’t touch each other. While you might expect that the phone call set-up means that the two can at least communicate verbally with one another, that also happens rarely in this show. Even in their duets they sing about one another more often than they sing to one another.
Singing primarily to the audience or to themselves could work (take Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, for example), except that too many of the songs don’t propel plot or character development forward in a meaningful way. The characters talk and talk (sing and sing) about their romantic dilemma and the challenges and joys of the creative process, but mostly just spin their wheels. Awake All Night has the components necessary for an emotionally compelling story, so it is unfortunate that Yasur has committed the cardinal theatrical sin of having his characters tell us about their problems rather than letting us watch them play out.
Awake All Night
Written, composed and directed by Itai Yasur
Details and tickets
The show would also benefit from more thoughtful staging. Because the actors aren’t given many opportunities to interact, they spend any time they aren’t singing shuffling through papers and writing or drawing, which is dull at best and distracting at worst. A bigger issue is that Bailey Drew Lehfeldt’s Ariadne is upstaged by Garrett Matthews’ Hermes, both figuratively and literally; the talented young Lehfeldt spends half of the show sitting in Matthews’ (actual) shadow. Both actors are charismatic and perform capably, with tuneful singing and good comic timing, but Matthews is allowed to dominate the stage.
Ariadne does take the spotlight for a fleeting moment of character growth. Upon realizing she is strong enough to leave her floundering relationship, she belts, “I’m Ariadne. I’ll die Ariadne.” This would be a much more powerful lyric if we had a sense of who she is as a person, other than the love object of an infatuated Hermes, and a college co-ed who wants to design a dream dress.
All of that is not to say that the show doesn’t have potential. The cello and piano combo is a highlight and, as a bonus, works particularly well in this small studio space. The music is energetic. All of the tunes are pleasant, singable numbers that I would happily listen to again. The writing is clever. The book is written entirely in rhyming verse, and while it has moments when it starts to feel a bit belabored, for the most part it is impressively witty word play. Yasur knows his Greek mythology well, and deftly weaves that mythology through his modern-day urban love story.
There is some good stuff here, but it needs some serious reworking in terms of staging and character development. Hopefully the team behind Awake All Night will take this promising material, hang up the phone, and try again.