Signature Theatre has unveiled the cast and creative team for the DC premiere musical Penelope, with book by Alex Bechtel, Grace McLean & Eva Steinmetz and music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel. Based on writings in The Odyssey by Homer, Penelope is told from the perspective of the one left behind. Penelope is directed by Eva Steinmetz (Lightning Rod Special’s The Appointment, Pig Iron Theater’s The Caregivers) and will star Broadway’s Jessica Phillips (Dear Evan Hansen, Next to Normal) in the title role. The production is music directed by Ben Moss (Broadway’s Head Over Heels, Spring Awakening). Performances run March 5 – April 21, 2024 in Signature’s ARK Theatre.
“Penelope takes a familiar story and flips it entirely on its head,” said Signature’s Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner. “Alex Bechtel, Grace McLean and Eva Steinmetz have crafted a witty and thoughtful new musical that examines our modern world reflected in the rocky shores of Penelope’s Ithaca. Join Penelope as she reflects on twenty long years of waiting for her wily husband to return from Troy, a glass of bourbon in one hand and a microphone in the other. I am thrilled that audiences will experience the DC premiere of this intelligent new musical alongside a tour-de-force performance from the sensational Jessica Phillips, a Broadway star making her Signature debut.”
“I never said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to write an adaptation of The Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view?’” said Alex Bechtel. “But at the beginning of the pandemic, forced to quarantine in separate cities from my romantic partner of many years, and worried I may never again get to make live theatre, I found myself swept away in a sea of hard feelings. In this time of need, Penelope arrived in my memory. So Eva, Grace, and I kept writing into her story – expressing the things we were feeling in our lives through the metaphor of hers, moving a personal and immediate expression through a classic myth. One thing that’s been affirmed for me in the process of making this piece is the enduring nature of the classics. It’s easy to dismiss these stories as antiquated. But my experience – reaching out in a time of personal need and finding Penelope within arm’s reach – showed me that these stories live in us vitally. They speak to the universal and cyclical experience of the human condition.”
“Penelope begins with the following author’s note: ‘If this is a dream, it’s one we are all having together,’” said Eva Steinmetz. “It honors my favorite thing about live performance: the act of collective imagination, when the sound of a melody or a simple human gesture transports a room full of people to another time and space. Penelope explores the grief of the pandemic through the refraction of classic mythology – being stuck at home, mourning global cataclysm, wondering who and what would survive. For me, that is why the piece continues to resonate as we move forward, backward, and tumble through the cycles of new and ongoing global conflicts. In performance, Penelope allows audiences to gather and experience these emotions in an act of communal healing. It is a grand journey of the everyday, of the ways we grow and transform, even when we’re stuck in one place.”
If we’re going to talk about the Trojan War, we need a drink. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, is fed up and has some things she wants to say. With glass of bourbon in hand, she takes the microphone to chronicle those twenty years waiting on the small island kingdom of Ithaca. With soulful music, this witty and thoughtful musical flips the script on the dutiful wife, as Penelope steps out of the background to claim her time in the spotlight.
The creative team for Penelope includes Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway (Signature’s No Place to Go, RENT), Costume Design by Danielle Preston (Signature’s Passing Strange, Studio Theatre’s Fat Ham), Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky (Signature’s The Bridges of Madison County, Sweeney Todd), and Sound Design by Eric Norris (Signature’s Private Jones, Ragtime). Casting is by Jorge Acevedo. Becky Reed is the Production Stage Manager, Hannah Allison is the Production Assistant, Sarah Beth Hall is the Associate Scenic Designer, and Elijah Thomas is the Assistant Lighting Designer.
Tickets start at $40 and are available at SigTheatre.org.