UK audiences were introduced to the Public Theater’s Public Works programme through Kwame Kwei-Armah’s production of Twelfth Night  at the Young Vic last year. Uniting community groups with professional actors on stage, these theatrical pageants typically are musical adaptations of Shakespeare or classic texts. But their newest venture, Hercules, is adapted from the Disney film.
With a new book and additional songs, the result combines a joyous jolt of gospel, a dash of swashbuckling, and a celebration of community. But though this production does some things well, it lacks some of the warmth and heart of the scrappier Public Works shows.
Hercules (Jelani Alladin) was born a god but made mortal, so he struggles to find a place on earth where he fits. He thinks becoming a hero is the solution. During his quest, he falls for Megara (Krysta Rodriguez), a self-possessed woman who is also an operative of Hades (Roger Bart). Hades sets out to destroy Hercules as part of his plot to rule all.
Lear deBessonet’s production boasts precise costumes (designed by Andrea Hood), fantastical puppets, a terrific ensemble, and enthusiastic group participation – including a marching band and a kick-line – but the staging is flat in places and the emotional investment is belated.
With cartwheels and a megawatt smile, Alladin charms in the title role. Rodriguez makes Meg complex and commanding. But Bart (who provided Hercules’ singing voice in the film) never fully chomps into his devious role and makes disappointingly little of Hades’ funky new song. Jeff Hiller, however, as comedic sidekick Panic, provides a non-stop stream of laughs.
Despite the solid performances, this streamlined staging of Hercules feels more Disney-on-a-budget than community extravaganza.