Hercules at Paper Mill Playhouse

Bless my soul, Disney on Broadway’s newest show is on a roll!

There is arguably nothing more magical than a Disney on Broadway show, but it’s been a while since we’ve been able to see something new from the company best known for musical adaptations of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. If you’re a fan of classic 90’s Disney movies, particularly one of mythical proportions, you’ll be thanking the gods for what comes next.

A production of Hercules was mounted at Papermill Play House in Millburn, NJ, following a smaller production premiere at The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park back in 2019. The show features Bradley Gibson (The Lion King) as Hercules, Shuler Hensley (The Music Man) as Hades, James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin) as Phil, and Isabelle McCalla (Aladdin) as Meg. The cast also includes TikTok star JJ Nieman (The Book of Mormon) in the ensemble. The production features music by EGOT winner and Disney legend Alan Menken, lyrics by Tony winner David Zippel, and a book by Tony winner Robert Horn and Young Vic Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah (based on the original 1997 Disney film, of course). 

Being the Disney adult that I am, I knew I needed to see this (now sold-out) production. Plus, Millburn isn’t far from me (and just a short train ride for those from NYC), so I was able to convince my family to come with me and turn it into a family outing. The Papermill Play House was really easy to get to, and the theater itself was quite nice and had a quaint feel, but a very modern auditorium. 

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Hercules, but I was expecting a musical on a similar level to The Lion King or Aladdin, but a little scaled back since it is a pre-Broadway tryout and not a full Broadway run. While there is definitely still some work to be done on the show, it was a lot of fun and fits in well with the existing Disney on Broadway lineup. The stage adaptation added a lot of songs to the existing catalog, but they were all a lot of fun. If you’re wondering about the revisions made to the story, the book is true to the original movie but gives a stronger and more prominent role to female-identifying characters like Hera and Despina. 

While all of the cast was superb, Pain and Panic absolutely stood out as the comedic front runners. Hades did have a lot of really great jokes, but the over-the-top delivery and portrayals from Reggie De Leon and Jeff Blumenkrantz not only felt authentic to the heart of the story but also added something new and unexpected that left the audience thrilled every time they entered the stage. The real stars of the show, however, were the Muses. Not only are all five women absolute vocal powerhouses, their costumes and choreography always made them the center of attention, and their stage presence made every single moment of theirs unforgettable. Honestly, I would watch a cabaret performance of just the Muses and would be perfectly entertained the entire time. 

In true Disney form, Hercules has made some significant choices with the staging of the show. The production operated on two turntables placed directly next to each other and Greek columns on top of each. The turntables were used so wisely and were truly able to transform the space from the original village to the underworld and beyond. There was also a hologram-like effect (no spoilers!) that was impressive and will hopefully be used in more productions moving forward. For the mythical monsters, puppets were used that felt very reminiscent of the puppet style in Fantasmic! and other Disney Parks shows. My two favorite scenes in the show were the titan attack and rescue in the river of lost souls in the second act since they were so simple, yet so powerful. The titan attack, especially, was one of the most unforgettable moments I’ve seen in a Disney on Broadway show.

After the show, the cast did a variation of a stage door, except in the lobby (where it was much warmer). I was able to meet James Monroe Iglehart, Bradley Gibson, and JJ Nieman, as well as several other cast members. Everyone was truly so kind and the conversations I had made an already great experience totally unforgettable. 

If you’re a more serious theatre fan, were never really a fan of Hercules (the movie), or aren’t really a 90s Disney fan, this show probably isn’t the best fit for you. However, if love the rest of the Disney on Broadway lineup and want a lighthearted, fun, good-time musical, Hercules absolutely delivers on that. I give my overall experience an IX out of X. 

And that’s the gospel truth.

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