Modern spin on a myth
Reviewed by F. Kathleen Foley
Seldom has didacticism been couched in so charming a format. Child-friendly and consistently diverting, "Atalanta," a world premiere musical at the Powerhouse, gives a lighthearted spin to serious feminist issues. Granted, the theme can be heavy-handed, but an engaging cast delivers the message with a light hand.
Based on an excerpt from Marlo Thomas' groundbreaking 1970s TV special, "Free to Be ... You and Me," "Atalanta" features a cheerful book and lyrics by Karen Hardcastle and offbeat, hummable music by David O, who, with cellist James Barry and clarinetist Matt Leonard, provides live accompaniment throughout this breezy show.
For those not familiar with the myth, Atalanta was an athletic princess who circumvented her father's insistence that she marry by racing and defeating her suitors. When one wily opponent threw golden apples onto the track, Atalanta stopped to retrieve the gilt goodies, losing the race and her independence.
This modernized version has a far different outcome. Princess Atalanta (spunky Elizabeth Tobias) is also being hounded by her loving but tradition-minded royal dad (Guerin Barry) to wed. But Atalanta wants to see the world first. Worse, her noble suitors (all played with comical broadness by Tom Beyer), range from the obnoxious to the insufferable. In an egalitarian twist, only Young John (Peter Musante), a commoner, proves a worthy opponent.
The denouement is a foregone conclusion. But getting there is all the fun. Director David Mowers keeps the action snappy, while Lori Scarlett, who plays Atalanta's best friend, and Deb Snyder, as Atalanta's goofy maid, add yet more pizazz to this colorful children's parable.
"Atalanta," Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 17. $20. (310) 396-3680, http://www.powerhousetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.