William Paterson Music Department to Stage Classic Operetta, "Orpheus in the Underworld," in Outdoor Performances on Campus April 21 to 25

William Paterson University music students will present Orpheus in the Underworld, the classic French operetta by Jacques Offenbach that puts a comic spin on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, during three outdoor performances on the plaza in front of Shea Center on campus on April 21, April 23, and April 25 at 6 p.m.

Originally scheduled for performances in spring 2020 that were postponed due the pandemic, the show has been reimagined, from sets to costumes, props, and lighting, to be performed outdoors, with masks and social distancing. The performance time was chosen specifically to take advantage of the lighting at dusk for the second act, as the Greek gods descend to the underworld.

“We are excited to present a fully staged outdoor theater production for the community,” says Christopher Herbert, William Paterson vocal area coordinator and director and producer of the show. “We are not aware of any other universities in New Jersey that are presenting live outdoor theatre. We are proud of being innovative and providing our students with the opportunity to perform a classic work in this unusual way.”

First performed in Paris in 1858, the operetta was an underground hit for years. In the classic myth, the musician Orpheus, grieving the recent death of his beautiful wife Eurydice, travels to the underworld to see her in hopes that he can revive her. In this comic retelling, Orpheus is a violinist whose wife Eurydice is tired of his constant fiddling. When Eurydice is abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld, Orpheus is pleased to be rid of her. But he realizes he must try to rescue her, and accompanied by the rest of the gods, he travels to Hades. In the end, the god Jupiter decides he wants Eurydice for himself, so Orpheus is thwarted in his quest. The finale features the famous tune, the “Can-Can,” as the gods hold a celebration party.

Orpheus in the Underworld is a truly challenging show, and the students are doing excellent work with it,” says Herbert. “The rhythm in this show is quite tricky, and the vocal ranges can be challenging. This is a true ensemble piece, and it’s excellent to see how the students are forging a community around the music and the story.”

The operetta, which will be sung in English with translations by Herbert and Nathaniel Merchant, is also surprisingly relevant for today’s audiences, Herbert adds. “Any satire piece can be relevant for the era you perform it in,” he says. “This work is a critique of dominant art forms and gender dynamics, which is something we discuss a lot in modern-day America.”

The role of Orpheus will be performed by Daniel Lopez, with Brenna Moran as Eurydice. Other members of the cast include Khyriyyah Abdul-Haqq, Taylor Andresen, Helenah Comia, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jones, Viviana Kaszubski, Yesol Lim, Bridget Maresca, Janais Martinez, Sal Montero, Jake Newton, Brianna Orfan, Jay Park, Youanna Sefein Shenouda, Allysa Totten, and Pam Urgiles.

In addition to Herbert, the production team includes Charity Wicks as music director, Angel Reed as choreographer, Rashidah Nelson as costume designer, Shari Selke as production stage manager, Al Schaefer as scenic designer, and Ed Matthews as lighting designer.

The production funded in part with support from the Ruth Silverman-Rosenbloom and Victor H. Rosenbloom Foundation. 

Tickets are $15 for seating on a folding chair or cube on the Shea Center Plaza; $10 for lawn seating for the public and members of the University community; and $5 for lawn seating for students. Attendees are welcome to bring a blanket for lawn seating. Non-family parties must purchase seating separately, and seating will be assigned on arrival. Rain date for the April 21 performance is April 22; the rain date for the April 23 performance is April 24. There is no rain date for the April 25 performance. All tickets must be purchased in advance at https://www.wpunj.edu/wppresents/wp-music/.