Expecting a retelling of the Greek myth, the office set is initially a little confusing. Atalanta by Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee is the Harvard Dramatic Club’s Edinburgh Fringe debut, and the society sure makes an impression.
Atalanta nods to the composers of the Golden Age of Musicals
It’s 1969, and the Atalanta Post is struggling to stay afloat as more and more papers close around New York City in the face of a television and cable news boom. After interference from her mother, Sarina Lemonde (Sophie Garrigus) is installed as the first female president of the newspaper, and sets to work on improving its coverage, ruffling feathers along the way.
The United States has a great musical tradition, and we can really see the influences of some of its greatest composers in this musical. From Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Atalanta nods to the composers of the Golden Age of Musicals and inserts itself alongside their work. Go-Getter is reminiscent of You’re The Top from Anything Goes, Daniel would fit into Sunday In The Park With George, and Someone might as well be Hamilton’s Non-Stop. The timeline of this show lines up with the Stonewall riots of June 1969, which are mentioned in the song Stonewall! However the subject isn’t really expanded on beyond that one song, and its placing in the musical basically suggests it’s unimportant and a distraction, almost using the riots as a dog-whistle to appear relevant. Considering the scale and importance of this moment in LGBTQ+ history, it seems almost insensitive to mention it so casually or as a way to make the musical ‘politically meaningful’. Kingsbury Lee should think hard about the song’s inclusion and whether devoting more time to the subject is called for.
Henry Wu - the company's pianist during the musical - deserves a lot of praise, not only for accompanying the cast but for his efforts in trying to play quietly enough that they would be heard above the accompaniment. This is due to the fact that the cast is very unbalanced in terms of who can project and who cannot. I was sitting in the 3rd row of the theatre and I could barely hear or understand the lyrics most of the time. They’re good singers and actors, if a little restrained in their performances, but their enunciation and projection is very poor.
Atalanta shows a lot of promise; it’s a very good musical that is very committed to exploring the situation of being a woman in a position of power. Some further development of relationships, characters and score would be helpful towards improving it. Hopefully it has a future and one day we’ll be able to properly hear what is happening onstage.