Review: “Sing Muse” at the Vortex (Austin 360)
By Cate Blouke
Special to the American-Statesman
How do we find the space to listen for inspiration in an era of so much technological chatter?
“Sing Muse,” a new collaborative work playing at the Vortex now through Sept. 14 re-introduces us to the nine muses of Greek mythology who are fighting to have their voices heard in the 21st century. Combining the sisters’ struggle with the story of their nemesis Thamyris (who challenged them and lost), it offers an array of reflections on love, creativity, inspiration, and failure.
Like an invitation to a dear friend's first dinner party, we enter this show with a fundamental desire to like it. Perhaps what gives "Sing Muse" its charm is the fact that it's a collaborative, devised piece that emerged over the last two years in workshops and rehearsals with director Rudy Ramirez and his cast of nine goddesses.
This production is the second full iteration of the show, revamped after a workshop production last summer. And the enthusiasm and sincerity hovering in the air goes a long way to compensate for any otherwise imperfect or frustrating elements (such as having to breathe fog machine smoke for the entire first half).
Touted as an a cappella musical, the show’s original musical arrangements by Chelsea Manasseri (also, aptly, performing the role of Euterpe, Muse of Music) are lovely, particularly "In Between the Echoes" (with lyrics by Ramirez), sung by Nikki Zook as Polyhymnia, the Muse of Hymns and Religious Poetry. The unaccompanied singing of the nine women certainly lends the show a vitality and energy that we don't often come across. Their harmonizing is not only beautiful, but also inspiring and occasionally apt to induce goose-bumps.
Karen Rodriguez is ideal for the role of Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, whose humorous interjections keep the play from ever getting too heavy. Similarly, Manasseri inhabits her role, delivering a gorgeous and powerful rendition of the blues. As the two resident nerds, Hayley Armstrong (Urania, Muse of Astronomy) and Laura Ray (Clio, Muse of History), are both charmingly erudite when called upon to explain anything to the others.
While the desire to give each muse her own scene is an admirable one, it also results in a longer play than really seems necessary. After a powerful climax to the first half, the energy dwindles in the second half, and the performance ends up trudging to the finish line.
Nevertheless, the play is a heartwarming one that earns forgiveness for its few shortcomings.
“Sing Muse” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through Sept.14. www.vortexrep.org