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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Cupid and Psyche

The people of Illyria called you the "new Venus." — Cupid
I told them not to. — Psyche<
Cupid & Psyche
Pheonix Vaughn (Pysche) and Ryan Reid (Cupid)
(Photo credit: Pat Doherty )
The Greco-Roman mythological legend of the romance of Cupid and Psyche first appeared in the second century A.D. in a novel by Lucius Apuleius. We have had to wait nineteen centuries for the musical version of the story by Sean Hartley (book & lyrics) and Jihwan Kim (music). Instead of asking either what was the hurry, or what took so long, let's just accept the fact that this sassy, sexy, satirical allegory has reached the stage with some of the key players from Mount Olympus in top form. Set designer Jessica Parks has provided a handsome faux alabaster columned playground for the gods. It has been lighted with the appropriate heavenly glow by Jill Nagle.

Hartley and Kim may have taken liberties with the original story, but the liberties, and there are plenty of them, add up to a zany and fun-filled time. The now seriously middle-aged but smartly accessorized goddess of love and beauty Venus (Liz Zazzi) is consumed with jealousy ("Don't Mess With a Goddess,") when she finds out that Psyche (Pheonix Vaughn), a lovely young mortal has not only been acclaimed as being as beautiful as she and but is being worshipped as a goddess by the people of Illyria . Venus hatches a revenge plan. She commands her son the curly haired and cute Cupid (Ryan Reid) (especially sporting white wings and a red skirt with gold fringe) to go down to earth and shoot an arrow at the even cuter Psyche so that she will fall in love with a Cyclops. That's doable.

Accompanied by his smart-alecky sidekick cum messenger of the gods Mercury (Michael Maricondi), Cupid reluctantly complies with his determined mother's wish. One glare from her and we understand that saying no is not on the table. But one look at Psyche is all that Cupid needs to fall in love. However, she's also studious ("Don't Talk About Love,") and wears glasses. Despite the warning of his pal Mercury that the gods are forbidden by law to love a mortal, Cupid, unable to reveal himself, makes himself invisible. He whisks Psyche off to a secret palace where things at first are blissful and then, of course, stressful when momma finds out.

One might think that the comely lovers or even the hoydenish Venus would be in charge of musical's most engaging action. But no, it's magical Mercury, as played with breathless brio by Maricondi who deserves the most accolades. It has been decreed by the gods that Maricondi play all the small roles. . . in a big way. He has also mastered the glib and witty lyrics so that they literally dance like quick steps off his tongue. With comedic aplomb, the tubby and terrific Maricondi breezes through all the nonsensical ado. And he carries a tune or two as well. The choreography by Ron De Jesus is most notable in an amusing number "Trust Me, ," in which Cupid teaches Psyche to dance. Otherwise the dancing borders on cavorting, but that's what it's all about.

Although she's got that formidable façade and the right attitude, the zaftig Zazzi has a way to go before she sounds at one with all the zings and zaps that punctuate her dialogue. The lovers are slim and blonde, sing well and look spiffy in Patricia E. Doherty's sheer out-of-this world costumes. On first hearing, the score is commendably tricky but easy on the ears and played admirably by Naomi Lee at the on-stage piano.

The direction by Alan Souza is geared toward the flighty. But this comparatively short, tightly wound and frenetically engineered show would also gain a lot without the intermission. This musical romp briefly played Off Broadway about five years ago and is a smart choice for the holiday season.

Cupid and Psyche
  Book and lyrics by Sean Hartley
  Music by Jihwan Kim
  Directed by Alan Souza

Cast: Michael Maricondi, Ryan Reid, Pheonix Vaughn, Liz Zazzi
  Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
  Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
  Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
  Musical Director: Naomi Lee
  Choreographer: Ron De Jesus
  Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
  The New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
  (732) 229 – 3166
  Tickets ($41.50) Discounts for seniors
  Performances: Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM.
  Opened 12/13/08. Ends 01/18/09
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/13/08

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