BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
“Myth and Hymns” is a new version of Adam Guettel’s “Saturn Returns,” his cycle of contemporary art songs that premiered in concert form at the Public Theater in 1998, several years before the composer-lyricist hit Broadway with “The Light in the Piazza.”
Guettel’s lyrical songs are now anchored to a grim storyline from writer-director Elizabeth Lucas and floated by a nice production by Prospect Theater Company in an 80-seat space at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, a picturesque old pile of architecture on the Upper West Side, where the show opened on Tuesday.
The airy, rotunda-like performance space befits the soaring quality of Guettel’s glowing music. A six-musician ensemble led by Katya Stanislavskaya handily serves the ambitious score.
Too bad that Lucas’ story proves to be a dreary and mostly pantomimed soap opera about a family’s woeful times. An elderly lady (Linda Balgord) sifts through her souvenirs in the attic and recalls it all:
Her memories include a transgressing son (Lucas Steele) being rejected by his father (Bob Stillman), a teen daughter (Anika Larsen) having an abortion, a husband’s early mortality through overwork (a predictable use for the “Sisyphus” song) and similarly sorrowful incidents. It’s a bit vague as to how the mythic “Icarus” number figures into this New England narrative, but there it flies, complete with wings.
The songs usually are charming, like the gentle Richard Rodgers-style waltz “How Can I Lose You?” or emotionally fervent like the throbbing “Come to Jesus,” and sometimes they are prettily staged by Lucas and choreographer Wendy Seyb, but the 80-minute show’s general effect seems terribly lugubrious.
Her sterling musicality confined to a single dramatic song, Balgord mutely suffers as a loving but passive matriarch. Stillman sings the role of the husband/father with silvery elegance. Matthew Farcher looks and sounds deceptively easygoing as a faithless sweetheart.
The Prospect’s production is modestly atmospheric. Dappled lighting by Herrick Goldman enhances Ann Bartek’s flexible setting of jumbled packing crates and odd bits of furnishings.
Guettel’s score is better appreciated as a series of jewel-like musical vignettes rather than as misused here to illustrate a doleful saga about a dreary family.
“Myths and Hymns” continues through Feb 26 at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th St., New York. Call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.prospecttheater.org.