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Orpheus and Eurydice, The Musical

Posted September 19th, 2012

Take one part musical theater, one part Greek myth, one run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, remount it for Philly, and you’ve got the 2012 Philly Fringe show Orpheus & Eurydice, opening tonight at Asian Arts Initiative.

“We were just talking about being excited to do a show for an American audience,” says Andrew Hanley, who, with Melissa Nally, are the Green Elephant Theatre behind the show. “With musical theater being such an American art form, there are basic assumptions that aren’t the same over there. People would talk to me afterwards, and would ask where I was during the show—everyone thought it was weird that we wanted the music to come from offstage.”

After the jump: one of Andrew’s songs, falling in love with Philly and musical theater, and the insanity of Edinburgh Fringe.

Melissa first went to Edinburgh in 2010, when her friend’s production company [http://www.five-one-productions.com/] asked her to direct a show.

“In 2011, they asked me to go back with a musical. I asked Andrew to do it with me, and can’t think of anyone else I’d want to work with. My friend suggested a Greek myth. I thought it would be perfect for a musical,” Melissa says,

“Our show was every night at 11:00 pm, and then we had to get out in 10 minutes because there was another show right after. We saw two or three shows a day, the actors had only an hour to get ready, and we had 10 minutes to set the stage,” Andrew says.

“It was hectic and crazy and wild and amazing at the same time,” Melissa says. “It was interesting presenting only to strangers, and it was the first time that we had critics and reviewers. I always knew when a reviewer was coming in because I’d see the comps on the ticket report.”

Andrew says it was “nervewracking. I’d mess up on the piano because I was extra nervous.”

Nevertheless, their interpretation of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice met with success in Scotland, with The Scotsman calling the show “An attractive blend of Greek myth and contemporary sensibilities . . . A model of concise abridgement, stripping the myth back to all but it’s core narrative.”

Melissa and Andrew met as students at Villanova, where they were bound by a mutual love for musical theater. They both say they’ve always worked in musicals instead of straight plays. Melissa says her favorite Villanova experience was directing Little Shop of Horrors, which Andrew music-directed. The very first performance they worked on together was Bye Bye Birdie in the autumn of 2008, for which Melissa was the assistant director, and Andrew was music director.

“Music can express emotion that is sometimes too big for dialogue,” says Melissa. “All those big moments are songs instead.”

“We build up to the point where it can’t be expressed in words anymore. It can be expressed through what they’re saying, but also through the extra forms of expression in music,” says Andrew.

As recent Villanova graduates (Melissa in 2010, Andrew in 2011), they have a good network here in Philadelphia, which turned out in droves for their cabaret fundraiser earlier this summer at Brownie’s in Ardmore.

“It was all love songs, falling in love and out of love. And the support we got from the community was amazing,” Melissa says. They’re both extremely fond of the theater community in Philadelphia.

“I think it’s a humble theater community. These are working actors,” Melissa says. Andrew follows up: “People are more into theater than into themselves.”

And being into theater means people likely will appreciate the musical line drawn from the Greeks to today.

“So much of Orpheus & Eurydice is built around music. He has the power from the gods for music, and he uses music to get her back. We built moments in to build up to that, but there are moments already build into the myth,” Andrew says.

“For me,” Melissa continues, “Orpheus & Eurydice is one of the stories that you remember from high school. We wanted to make it modern, fresh, contemporary musical theater.”

“It’s such a devastating story,” says Andrew. “We’re not done with the show after this. We’d like to go on with it somewhere, in some capacity.”

But for now, Orpheus & Eurydice opens tonight at 8:00 pm, and runs Friday and Saturday, also at 8:00 pm each night, at the Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street, Center City. $10 advance, $12 at the door.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

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