MANILA, PHILIPPINES — When it comes down to it, what would a hero do? Orphie and the Book of Heroes tells the story of an orphan girl, Orphie, guarded and sired by the blind poet Homer, whose kidnapping by Hades sets Orphie on a quest. Her being the “Scrawny Little Orphan”, as she was introduced, does not stop her from the rescue mission when other heroes fail her and obstacles challenge her journey.
To showcase the fresh pool of talents in their first Newbie Production since 2019, Ateneo Blue Repertory staged Orphie and the Book of Heroes. The play, lyrics by Christopher Dimond and music by Michael Kooman, was first staged in the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater in Washington D.C. in 2014, and is a fitting comeback for the the premier musical theatre organization of the Ateneo de Manila University.
Audrey Sy’s portrayal of Orphie is a consistent charmer throughout, only breaking her lively gait and potential complexity in “What Would a Hero Do.” Aaron Nuñez’ portrayal of Hermes appears to be most studied as the cowardly sidekick whose presence is missed when not onstage.
The ensemble proves to be the most entertaining element of the show, especially when assigned particular characters that permitted them nuances and twists from being in the chorus. A challenge apparent from the demanding show is the sustenance of the momentum. Hence, clean transition to the denouement is in order.
While it is easy to appreciate the show for its exciting numbers and earworm tunes, familiarity with Greek mythology will go a long way in catching the jokes casually dropped in reference to its characters.
With all its technical aspects, the production is visually stimulating but doesn’t fully carry into the realm of ancient Greece, a conscious decision proven by the campiness of multiple scenes and wardrobe choices.
Lighting was fully serving of the production, designed by Jethro Nibaten and most effective in the typhoon sequence and in the execution of the appearance of Atlas. The production would appeal less to the sticklers for classical sensibilities, but is an overall entertaining Newbie Production — eliciting laughs and cheers from the audience — thanks to the direction of Robert Bradly Hao.
At its surface, Orphie and the Book of Heroes breaks the notion and stereotypes of what heroes are and what it takes to be one. In its core, the play is a stance for the strength of stories and the power it can inspire even for those in the hapless disposition. As Orphie sang and Homer would agree, “Stories can help you find your way.”
Ateneo Blue Repertory’s Orphie and the Book of Heroes runs until February 11 at the Doreen Black Box Theater in Arete, Ateneo De Manila University.