“Hercules” is a glitzy stage remake of the animated musical

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Bradley Gibson wearing a white toga
Bradley Gibson in Disney's Hercules, directed by Lear deBessonet, photographed by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

This energetic cast brings their characters to life

Destinee Rea smelling a flower while Tiffany Mann, Rashidra Scott, Charity Angél Dawson, Anastacia McCleskey, and Isabelle McCalla are in the background singing
Destinee Rea, Tiffany Mann, Rashidra Scott, Charity Angél Dawson, Anastacia McCleskey, and Isabelle McCalla in Disney’s Hercules, directed by Lear deBessonet, photographed by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn has, as far as the Jersey stage is concerned, cornered the market on large, lavish musicals. Their latest production, a stage version of Disney’s animated feature Hercules, spares no effort in bringing the film’s take on Greek mythology to three-dimensional life on stage. The result is family entertainment that is sure to please Paper Mill’s audiences.

The book by Robert Horn and Kwame Kwei-Armah leaves plenty of room for the musical numbers by Alan Menken and David Zippel, both those originally written for the movie and newer numbers written for the stage. The energetic cast, directed by Lear deBessonet and choreographed by Chase Brock and Tanisha Scott, bring their characters to life in the service of the story’s moral: that with perseverance and faith, one can achieve any goal, no matter how impossible it may seem.

We are led through the story by five of the Muses, goddesses of the arts — Thalia (Anastacia McCleskey), Terpsichore (Destinee Rea), Clio (Charity Angel Dawson), Calliope (Tiffany Mann), and Melpomene (Rashidra Scott), a Greek chorus with divine voices and fabulous moves, a Motown-level “girl group.” They relate how Zeus (Dennis Stowe) and Hera (Kristen Faith Oei)’s newborn son, Hercules, is kidnapped by Pain (Ben Roseberry) and Panic (Jeff Blumenkrantz), servants of Hades (Shuler Hensley), lord of the underworld and Zeus’ jealous brother.

The baby’s death will allow Hades’ master plan of revenge to succeed, but Pain and Panic bungle the job. The infant, no longer immortal but retaining his godlike strength, is taken in and raised by Despina (Kathryn Allison). Grown to a man, Hercules (Bradley Gibson) is told by a vision of his parents he can regain immortality by becoming a true hero.

At Hera’s advice, Hercules seeks out the trainer Philoctetes — “Phil” for short — (James Monroe Iglehart), convincing Phil to work past his thwarted dreams and become the young man’s mentor. Along his path to heroic fame, Hercules crosses paths with Megara, or “Meg” (Isabelle McCalla), a strong-willed, independent woman with whom he falls in love. But Meg has secrets of her own, and the time until Hades’ plan takes effect grows quickly shorter…

The cast has a uniform quality of professionalism, from Gibson, McCalla, Iglehart, and Hensley down to the energetic singers and dancers of the ensemble. The scenic design by Dane Laffrey, the costumes of Emilio Sosa, and the lighting and sound designs of Jeff Croiter and Kai Harada are up to Paper Mill Playhouse’s usual levels of quality and enhanced by the special effects of Jeremy Chernick and James Ortiz’ puppet designs for the monsters Hercules has to overcome.

Anastacia McCleskey as Thalia, Destinee Rea as Terpsichore, Charity Angél Dawson as Clio, Rashidra Scott as Melpomene, Tiffany Mann as Calliope on stage singing
Anastacia McCleskey as Thalia, Destinee Rea as Terpsichore, Charity Angél Dawson as Clio, Rashidra Scott as Melpomene, Tiffany Mann as Calliope, in Disney’s Hercules, directed by Lear deBessonet, photographed by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Hercules, as presented here, is a good entertainment for the entire family.  Paper Mill Playhouse has yet another hit on its hands, one sure to please its audience base. For an entertaining evening in the theater, I can say that your time won’t be wasted at this often rousing, often amusing musical production of Hercules.

Hercules is presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through March 19, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to papermill.org or call 973-376-4343.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.