Take a cauldron, add in Cabaret, Rent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Hair, then blow it up, and you’ll find yourself immersed in Trinity Rep’s brilliant Beowulf, now being performed through October 9 in Providence.
You don’t walk away from this performance humming any tunes, but then again, I didn’t from In the Heights or Hamilton, either, and they’re merely two of the finest musicals of the past decade. To quote the immortal Seinfeldia lore: This show is Broadway-worthy.
Michael McGarty’s in-your-face set is like live IMAX. The costumes by Olivera Gajic, are out of some crazed-on-acid comic book. And the music direction by Michael Rice, which includes both box and flute, for example, is outstanding.
But what casting! A combination of Trinity stalwarts and Brown Consortium students are brilliant, and the warrior girls seem to be on leave from the Kit Kat Club. To name just a few:
Stephen Berenson cast against type as the monster Grendel, playing the role with the sadness of the kid who’s never chosen for the schoolyard basketball games; Rachael Warren, a warrior who has a two-minute soliloquy reminiscent of Aretha Franklin at the Kennedy Center Awards (house comes down); Joe Wilson, Jr. as King Hrothgar in great voice and volcanic energy.
And then there’s Charlie Thurston in the lead role, with a wonderful voice and nuanced acting, who is so good that you want every acting student in the country to watch this. He brings a big boldness and sad sensitivity to Beowulf, especially when being castigated by Grendel’s mother (Anne Scurria) for killing her son. (They later fight, underwater, via overhead transparencies, such is the inspired lunacy of this production, which artistic director Curt Columbus brings to the ideal energy, pitch-perfect.)
I was ready for another modern-day version of the oldies but goodies, MacBeth in combat boots or The Taming of the Shrew on the moon, but instead I found a psychedelic delight that only a bold theater group would try.
Oh, yeah: At intermission, Grendel’s balloon head is kept in the air by the audience. That’s the kind of night it is. Go see for yourself.