Theater has finally begun to heat up. Despite CO-VID stops and starts, artists forge ahead and seem to generally be playing to strong houses. If you want attendance statistics, go to https://www.broadwayleague.com/research/grosses-broadway-nyc/. However, in addition to Broadway shows which grab the headlines, there are lots of off-Broadway and regional theaters ramping up as well. “Un-Block The Music” spoke to Peter Kellogg book writer and lyricist for Penelope, or How the Odyssey Was Really Written. The show being presented by the York, had a CO-VID blip, although it is back now, don’t hesitate if you want tickets. It is running only through April 24. (https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1092597)
“Un-Block the Music” has written about Peter’s shows in the past, including Desperate Measures and The Rivals. I loved both of those, and I am sure Penelope will not disappoint. If you haven’t thought about The Odyssey since high school, never fear, this contemporary version will likely please you more. While the Trojan War was fought because of Helen of Troy, Penelope was the virtuous heroine waiting for her husband for 20 years to return home!
My 9th grade English teacher might be horrified by my ignorance, but Peter brought me up to speed with regard to The Odyssey’s presumed author Homer, who may or may not have been a real person. A lot of the tales in The Odyssey are adaptations of folk tales, and this musical comedy takes a few liberties of its own.
Peter described the plot of this musical comedy version of the story. A bevy of suitors have gathered around Penelope, each wanting to marry her and take over the kingdom of Ithaca. Since they have little else to do but eat and drink, these suitors decide to form an acapella group. To stall them, Penelope writes letters to herself and pretends they’re from Odysseus saying he’s on his way home. Little does she know, her letters gathered together are creating the story of The Odyssey.
“We wrote the show in about a month; in May of last year,” Peter said. When it was ready to be put on stage, “we decided with Penelope that we needed a woman director. Who are we, as men, to know how a woman should think?” Enter Emily Maltby who not only directed the show but choreographed as well. (https://www.emilymaltby.com/about)
Britney Nicole Simpson, plays Penelope. It comes full circle for her, according to Peter. She started her career at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She played 16-year-old Nausicaa who finds Odysseus on the Phoenician beach in one of the Odyssey’s tales. It’s a circular road as well for Maria Wirries who plays Daphne. “When she was 10 years old, Maria entered a pig calling contest and she won an apple. Now she gets to use those skills again. Pig calling, she says, helped her voice!” Peter jokes.
No doubt despite the hilarity of the show, Penelope has touching moments as well said Peter. That was also true of The Rivals which Peter also created with music writer Stephen Weiner. And, it won’t stop here. Hopefully, next up will be the duo’s adaptation of Alex Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo which had its first reading before the pandemic.
After 30 Years at St. Peter’s in NYC, The York Theatre group had to find a new home last year because of a flood. Whether it is permanent or temporary, shows are being produced at The Theatre at St. Jeans, 76th Street and Lexington Avenue. The space is larger and has great acoustics, said Peter who is grateful for the York’s continued support of new works.
Check out previous stories about Peter’s work: