In 1998, immediately after making his Off-Broadway and musical debut with Floyd Collins — and seven years before The Light in the Piazza would light up Broadway and earn him two Tony Awards in the process — Adam Guettel took a break from musicals to pursue something a little different.
Inspired by two very different sources — the Greek myths of Icarus, Pegasus, Hero, Leander, and Sisyphus and the lyrics he found in a 19th-Century Presbyterian hymnal — Saturn Returns, as it was originally called, was a theatrical song cycle exploring the nature of faith and longing in a secular world.
Musically, the work features a diverse mix of 23 original songs, veering from electronic jazz to piano balladry, gospel to musical theater. It’s a suitable showcase of the wide-ranging compositional skill of the third-generation theatermaker, the grandson of legendary Broadway musical composer Richard Rodgers.
Now known as Myths and Hymns, the revue and its “kaleidoscopic collection” of songs serves as the foundation of the all-virtual 79th season of MasterVoices.
In addition to new choral arrangements by the organization’s Ted Sperling, Guettel’s work has been reimagined for film and the digital realm, and separated into four distinct chapters, each structured around a different theme.
MasterVoices recruited an illustrious lineup of celebrity performers to make guest appearances throughout, among them Renée Fleming, Cheyenne Jackson, Jennifer Holliday, Kelli O’Hara, Norm Lewis, Capathia Jenkins, Shoshana Bean, Nina Bernstein, Joshua Henry, Theresa McCarthy, Nicholas Phan, Elizabeth Stanley, Jose Llana, the famous gospel a cappella group Take 6, actor John Lithgow, dancer Emma Lou DeLaney, the pianist duo of Anderson & Roe, and visual artists Yazmany Arboleda and Steven Kellogg.
“I’ve thought for years that this piece would merit revisiting with MasterVoices, and now it’s proving to be the perfect project for us to tackle during the COVID era,” says Sperling, who served as the music director of the original 1998 Off-Broadway production of Myths and Hymns. “I always aim to choose material for MasterVoices that has a relationship to the issues and feelings that we as a community are facing, and while this collection doesn’t spring from this sort of external crisis, it does explore an internal one…. a crisis of purpose, a feeling of being lost, of having ‘a hunger inside me.”
The series kicked off in January with the release of “Flight,” and has continued with the staggered release of each subsequent chapter exploring a different “place” where the protagonist, who feels a bit lost and depressed, can turn to try to find some measure of hope or fulfillment, including “Work” and “Love,” the focus of chapters two and three, respectively. Next Wednesday, May 26, at 6:30 p.m., the four-part song cycle will come to a conclusion with the premiere of the fourth chapter “Faith.”
All chapters in the Myths and Hymns series are available to stream for free until June 30 from the organization’s website and YouTube page. Visit www.mastervoices.org.
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