A few years ago, one of the original stars of Hercules publically proposed that Krysta Rodriguez should take on her role in a live production. Who knew then that it would actually happen? It must be Disney magic.
The animated Disney film Hercules, which premiered in 1997, is now being mounted for the stage, and Rodriguez is set to costar as Megara as predicted by the original Meg, Susan Egan (Broadway’s first Belle in Beauty and the Beast). The musical, playing at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park for a week beginning August 31, is part of the Public Theater’s summer series. More than 200 people are in the cast, many of whom are not professional actors.
Directed by Lear deBessonet, Hercules tells the story of a god who has become a mortal and then turns back into a god. Leading the cast in the title role is Jelani Alladin, the original Kristoff in Broadway’s Frozen (Tate Donovan voiced the hero in the movie). James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Hamilton) plays Philoctetes, who was famously voiced by Danny DeVito in the film. And Roger Bart (Young Frankenstein), who voiced young Hercules and sang the Oscar-nominated song “I Can Go the Distance” (it lost to “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic), is in this new production, this time playing the antagonist, Hades.
Five new songs will be added to the adaptation by composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel, one of which will be performed by Rodriguez (The Addams Family). Rodriguez recalls that years ago, Egan tweeted that she hoped Rodriguez would one day get the opportunity to play this role. The two are very close friends and confidantes.
Rodriguez made her Broadway debut in Good Vibrations in 2005, and most recently was part of 54 Below’s Jonathan Larsen Project, where she sang never-before-heard songs written by the Rent creator. During the last few years, Rodriguez has made many TV appearances, including on Smash and Younger. She’s also set to appear in MCC’s Seared.
Broadway Direct caught up with Rodriguez to see how the show has evolved more than 20 years later.
What was your reaction when you were asked to be in this show?
I was just over-the-moon thrilled about it. I have loved this character for so long. One of my mentors growing up was Susan Egan, who was the original voice of Meg in the film. Someone asked her [on Twitter] who should play Meg on Broadway, and she said me. So it sort of has been in my consciousness for a long time, but not something that I really thought of all that seriously.
How did that mentorship with Egan form?
We went to the same high school. She was in the first graduating class of the Orange County High School in Southern California, and she would come back for alumni events. We had this elite performing group with the school that you had to audition for. She would come and perform with us and I got some one-on-one time with her. The year after I graduated, she ended up being the artistic director of the school. When I was an alumni, I guest-performed at events. It would be she and I, Matthew Morrison, and Lindsay Mendez. She’s always giving me wisdom and support. She’s just the best.
Did she give you advice on playing Meg?
She didn’t really give me advice on it; she was just supportive and excited about it. There are these Broadway Princess Parties, which are concerts of all Disney songs. She and I are going to perform with them and sing together. It’s a nice torch-sharing moment.
When is that?
How is your role going to compare to Meg from the movie?
I have the same song [“I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)”]. [In the movie] she’s glamorous a bit, and vampy. [In this version], while she has been in prison, she is still the boss. She somehow worked her way in the ranks to be in charge of a small battalion of people. I have a new song when you first meet Meg. She gets to share what she feels about things she’s seeing in life and with men. [Meg] is not a damsel in distress. [She’s] just a woman going through a problem. It acknowledges her feelings toward Hercules.
How is this show staged?
It is a beast. It is beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. It is an unbelievable feat to watch everybody come together. It’s an unreal thing I’ve never seen before. The show has a bit of a supernatural aspect to it, with God and the underworld and all of these things that we don’t see in nature. So we’ve been able to boil it down to a story about community and people who use different versions of strength to be heroes. With that framework, we’re able to bring it to Earth a little bit. I can’t give away too much of actual specific staging, but there are really creative ways that they solve these problems of people being able to run around and fly.
Switching gears, you have a Feinstein’s/54 Below show coming up right after this show is over. What can we expect?
If you don’t get the lottery for Hercules, you can expect to hear the new Alan Menken tune.
That’s a good secret!
Also the old favorite as well. I’m hoping to give people a preview if they weren’t able to see it. On top of that, I’m really excited about the show because it’s my first one ever. I’ve been doing concerts all the time. I basically live at 54 Below, but I’ve never had my own solo show there. Partially that’s because I didn’t really know what I wanted to sing. I didn’t want it to be just a typical musical-theater concert. I’ve had some life experiences that have brought me here right now, so I’m excited to share stuff that I don’t get to sing all the time that I really love. We got some pop, rock, jazz, and, of course, musical theater.
Last year at 54 Below you performed songs by Jonathan Larson. What was it like to tap into his unheard music?
It was a wonderful, soul affirming experience. He was so incredibly ahead of his time with issues we are facing today. Charlie Rosen, who orchestrated it, took perfect care of the material by maintaining its rawness while bringing it to modern audiences. I feel so lucky that I got to do that.
How has surviving breast cancer changed your perspective on life, including your work?
It’s sometimes hard to have perspective on something that happened to you. And then one day something happens and you handle it totally differently than you would have before and you think, maybe I have changed. It’s subtle. Breast cancer takes so much from you as a woman but I really feel like I’ve become more of a woman since then. I feel stronger in a lot of areas in my life and it reflects in the roles that have come my way since. I’m playing characters now that challenge and push me in ways I finally feel ready for. Now, I have stories inside me that only I can deliver and that’s really exciting.
What is your dream role?
Sally Bowles — that’s the ultimate! Millie [from Thoroughly Modern Mille] and Belle — Susan’s got all the good roles. She’s not a bad person to emulate.