Sing, Muse, produced by Vortex Repertory Company at the Vortex on the east side of Austin, distills song from the heart of classical mythology and pours it, with libation, on the thirsty Austin musical theatre community. Rudy Ramirez directs the production, and the show is something of a coming out party for Ramirez as a new artistic co-director, sharing the honors (and responsibilities) with long-time Vortex artistic director Bonnie Cullum. Already described as the Duke of Austin arts, Rudy Ramirez has directed, acted, and sung in musical theatre productions all over Austin, not just with Vortex Repertory Company, and has received the local B. Iden Payne award for components of that work.
The showcase production is original music and text, comprising a retelling and updating of the myth of the Nine Muses of the arts and learning and their challenge from the mortal Thamyris. He was the greatest singer in all of Greece, and the first man in all of history to love another man, Hyacinth. He challenged the Muses that he could make and sing a better song than they could, after they inspired him to do so. Naturally, the Muses withdrew inspiration from him, Thamyris failed, and the Muses sent him to hell for his sin of hubris, or overweening pride, in thinking that he could challenge the gods. The action of the performance takes place over one night when the Muses decide to pull Thamyris out of Tarterus to reconsider it all.
Here is rich material for music and literature, and the talented Rudy Ramirez and his equally talented cast explore it with boldness. Clearly, editing choices have to be made, and the production treats more of the origin of homoerotic love than of the theme of hubris. The results are refreshing, but on a lower level, the choice to perform the story a cappella did not work as well. But here is perhaps the signal of a fork in the road for Vortex Repertory Company, known for a long series of cyber-operas produced through their subsidiary Ethos, famed for their multimedia, full-channel ascents to sensory overload.
The only real flaw in an otherwise astounding work of musical theatre was the withholding of some of the finest singing talent in the cast to late in the show, perhaps on the theory of saving the best for last. Restraint is, however, admirable.
The era of Rudy Ramirez at Vortex Repertory Company promises to be one of restraint but also of immensely creative and deep explorations of musical theatre. Most auspicious.