In recent years, children’s entertainment has seen a surge in the portrayal of female heroes. Characters like the courageous and determined Merida from Pixar’s Brave and the intelligent and fierce Katniss from The Hunger Games have provided girls of all ages with someone to admire. This trend continues with the Kennedy Center’s world premiere production of Orphie and the Book of Heroes, a musical that follows the story of a young orphan defying all odds in ancient Greece to become a true hero.
A Gender-Inclusive Tale of Hope
Set in the world of Homer and the Greek mythology he wrote about, this musical offers hope to children of both genders, emphasizing that anything is possible. While it resonated strongly with girls in the audience, as they witnessed Orphie’s triumphant journey, it also captivated boys, as the production had no trace of “girly” stereotypes.
An Engaging Experience for All Ages
Accompanied by my 8-year-old daughter Cassidy, I found myself laughing at every turn, gaining a deeper appreciation for the clever jokes crafted for her generation. For instance, one Greek citizen exclaimed “O-M-Zeus” when taken by surprise, generating laughter from the audience. However, the humor in Orphie and the Book of Heroes was not limited to the younger generation. Intelligent humor, such as a hilarious scene involving an airport boarding process, kept the adults entertained throughout.
The book and lyrics penned by Christopher Diamond, complemented by Michael Kooman’s music, make Orphie and the Book of Heroes an absolute delight. The songs were both humorous and memorable, often prompting the children in the audience to dance in their seats. One standout number involved the Lord of the Underworld displaying unexpected dance moves in a dress, leaving a lasting impression.
Impressive Performances and Memorable Characters
In the role of Orphie, Lauren Du Pree’s endearing voice and commanding stage presence brought the character to life. Despite the challenges of portraying a young and fearful orphan who aspires to find a hero, Du Pree effortlessly conveyed the transformation of Orphie into a hero herself.
Christopher Bloch, portraying the beloved character of Homer, captured the audience’s attention with his authentic appearance, thanks to the remarkable costume design by Timm Burrow. Bloch’s portrayal of Homer, a blind character, resulted in some excessive sight-related gags, which might have been slightly overdone.
A standout performance by Evan Casey as Heracles, a half-man and half-god, infused the Kennedy Center with energy. The number featuring Casey garnered applause from the crowd, with pop culture references adding to the excitement. Heracles’ depiction was far from what Orphie originally expected in a hero.
Despite playing the dark and villainous Hades, Thomas Adrian Simpson brought a lighthearted and comedic touch to the character. Dressed in devilish red, Simpson delivered some of the show’s funniest lines and skillfully showcased the full potential of his role.
While my daughter Cassidy mentioned one minor issue regarding Gia Mora’s portrayal of Persephone, the wife of Hades, due to an accent that proved challenging to understand, it did not dampen her overall enjoyment. It was also slightly unclear whether Persephone was being held captive by Hades or simply dissatisfied with her writing.
Completing the ensemble cast, Paul Scanlan, Samuel Edgerly, and Evan Caset skillfully portrayed multiple characters, enhancing the production with their exceptional harmony.
I am always impressed when a show successfully appeals to both young and old audiences without pandering to either generation, and Orphie and the Book of Heroes achieves precisely that. In the era of exorbitant movie ticket prices, this musical provides a far more valuable and heartfelt experience than some of the current films (yes, I’m looking at you The Nut Job), capturing the same level of emotion and affection as Frozen did during the winter season.
If your child is in search of a new hero, look no further than the Kennedy Center’s enchanting production.
Reviewed by Keith Loria
Celia Wren . Washington Post
April Forrer . MDTheatreGuide
Joel Markowitz . DCMetroTheaterArts
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld