The actor sings and dances in the vortex of a massive undertaking in Central Park by the Public Theater and its highly regarded Public Works initiative, a seven-year-old program uniting amateur and professional actors. In this instance, eight Broadway pros — including Roger Bart, Krysta Rodriguez, Jeff Hiller and Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart — are joined on the Delacorte Theatre stage by 200 dancers, singers and community members. Their collective exuberance is harnessed by director Lear deBessonet and choreographer Chase Brock in a manner that itself is nothing short of heroic.
Disney yielded up this property, which is based on the 1997 animated movie featuring the voices of Tate Donovan and Danny DeVito, to Public Works for a unique eight-day event. With songs by Alan Menken and David Zippel, and a new book by playwright Kristoffer Diaz, this experiment in corporate-civic cooperation proves especially felicitous. Over the years, Disney, which broke through on Broadway in the ’90s with “Beauty and the Beast” and, even more artfully, “The Lion King,” has explored offbeat matchups of talent and venue for its myriad stage musicals. Some, such as “Aida” (1998), found Broadway success, and others, including the desultory “Tarzan” (2006), have not.
The attempts to refine a distinct pathfinding process for each vehicle led Disney in 2016 to ally with Signature Theatre in Arlington for the world premiere of a musical version of “Freaky Friday”; instead of sending it to Broadway, Disney licenses the show across the country for regional and community theaters. In November, meanwhile, Arena Stage will, for the first time, produce a Disney-spawned show, a revival of 2012’s “Newsies,” a Broadway musical based on the 1992 live-action movie, also with music by Menken.
“Hercules” represents yet another permutation of a multifaceted corporate strategy, and on this occasion, the results reveal how a savvy director and an inspired design team can amplify the return on artistic investment. The show’s paper-thin plot has to do with the young god, son of glittery Zeus (Michael Roberts) and Hera (Tar-Shay Margaret Williams), rendered mortal on Earth by Bart’s snarky Hades, and smitten with Rodriguez’s feisty Megara. It’s a narrative scaffolding on which to hang some agreeably souped-up numbers — “Go the Distance,” “Forget About It,” “Zero to Hero” — that pulsate in the great outdoors, courtesy of conductor Michael Kosarin and a 10-person orchestra.
Bart — the original Carmen Ghia in Broadway’s “The Producers” — has great fun with the jazziest song, “Cool Day in Hell,” backed by his comic minions, Pain (Nelson Chimilio) and Panic (the priceless Hiller, who no doubt popped out of the womb with a stand-up set ready). A girl-group quintet of Ramona Keller, Brianna Cabrera, Rema Webb, Tamika Lawrence and Tieisha Thomas is trotted out regularly for the uplifting sounds of gospel and shoop-shoop; if the park had a roof, they’d raise it. James Ortiz’s outsize monster puppets (Hercules has to vanquish something) are amusing reminders of the musical’s roots in animation.
DeBessonet’s production conveys the pleasing sensation of having gone all out, especially in the huge production numbers, when the stage is flooded with performers in Andrea Hood’s rainbow of bright summer frocks: a Mediterranean rainbow of humanity. This panoramic approach dovetails nicely with the sentimental core of the musical, which is to say, it’s okay to be human, with ordinary feelings and problems and stuff. And on the occasion of a version staged by one particularly gifted human, it’s also fair to say that the theater gods have been kind.
Hercules, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by David Zippel, book by Kristoffer Diaz. Directed by Lear deBessonet. Choreography, Chase Brock; sets, Dane Laffrey; costumes, Andrea Hood; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; sound, Kai Harada. About 1 hour 45 minutes. Through Sunday at Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, New York. Admission is free; visit publictheater.org for details.