Hercules Will Flex Its Muscles at the Delacorte Theater — and You Can See It For Free
A Disney classic comes to the stage with a cast of 200 and the help of the Public Theater.
The big event of August is the opening of Hercules, the latest Disney animated classic to hit the stage. But rather than open cold on Broadway, this musical will take an unconventional route to its theatrical debut: it will be presented with a cast of over 200, completely for free, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. That's right, you can see Disney's Hercules musical for free, August 31-September 8.
Whom do we have to thank for this?
The Public Theater, purveyors of free Shakespeare in the Park, and more specifically, the organization's Public Works initiative.
Founded in 2013 by director Lear deBessonet (who will stage Hercules), the mission of Public Works is to involve the wider population of New York City — specifically those who may not otherwise have access — in the theater-making process. The program, currently led by Laurie Woolery, collaborates with community organizations across the five boroughs to offer workshops, classes, show tickets, potlucks, and the chance, each Labor Day weekend (since 2013), to take part in an ambitious pageant production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
Past shows have included 90-minute musical adaptations of The Tempest, which featured Taiko drummers and New York City taxi drivers, As You Like It with Lucha Libre wrestlers, and The Winter's Tale, which counted Big Bird and Elmo among its company.
So there are civilians in the cast?
Yup. Civilians make up most of the cast. The goal of Public Works is to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table, regardless of whether they're a professional actor. According to past Public Works composer Shaina Taub, "one of the philosophies of Public Works is that talent is a continuum, and some of us do it for a living, some not." Which is why when you see Hercules, you'll see eight Equity actors intermingling with non-professionals from throughout New York City who will take on featured and ensemble roles.
Not just anyone can get up onstage, though. These New Yorkers of all stripes come from community groups that the Public partners with year-round, including the Fortune Society, which supports the formerly incarcerated as they reenter public life; the Military Resilience Foundation, which helps service members, veterans, and military families heal after traumatic experiences; and members of the Brownsville Recreation Center, particularly its senior citizens.
The eight Equity actors you'll see are Broadway favorites Jelani Alladin (Frozen) as Hercules, Krysta Rodriguez (Smash) as Meg, Jeff Hiller as Panic, Ramona Keller, Tamika Lawrence, and Rema Webb as muses Thalia, Calliope, and Terpsichore, and Tony winners James Monroe Iglehart (Hamilton) and Roger Bart (The Producers), who will play Phil and Hades. Bart, if you remember, provided the singing voice of Hercules in the animated feature, which is a pretty cool way to "go the distance" and close a decades-long circle.
In total, the cast will number 200, and it will most definitely be a magical experience that restores your faith in theater, and what it means to be a community, on a beautiful summer night under the stars. Unless it rains.
How do I get one of these free tickets?
Remember when you were in college and you lined up on Central Park West before dawn to get tickets to see Meryl Streep in Mother Courage? Yeah, that's not happening for Hercules.
The Public is well aware of the demand for a free world-premiere Disney musical, and their ticket supply is limited, since most of their allotment is distributed to their community partners.
For general audiences this year, there will be an advanced digital ticket lottery, where you can enter to win two tickets to any one of the seven performances. You can sign up now through the Public's ticketing partner (more info can be found here), but you can only do it through Wednesday, August 28, at noon EST. There will be separate lotteries for ADA accessible and senior accessible seats.
If you don't win via this lottery, there will also be a daily in-person standby lottery, which is even less of a sure shot than the advanced lottery. Entries will be accepted beginning at 5pm on the night of the show and winners will be drawn at 7:30pm. But the standby lottery doesn't guarantee tickets even if you win it – you'll only get them if they become available. You'll also need a free Public Theater patron ID, which you can sign up for here.
So what's the catch?
There is no catch (unless you get rained out). It's all part of the Public Theater's populist vision of theater by the people, for the people. You'll be able to see Hercules the musical entirely for free, with a script by Kristoffer Diaz (Rent Live) and old songs and new by film composers Alan Menken (music) and David Zippel (lyrics). It doesn't get any better than that.
Will Hercules go to Broadway?
Disney has a history of partnering with nonprofit theaters on less-sure material (see Newsies, which premiered at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse and ran for over two years on Broadway).
But not every Disney-backed show has gone to Broadway. High School Musical went the touring route. Freaky Friday played major regional theaters before becoming a film. Still, no one expected Newsies to transfer, and it did, but everyone expected The Hunchback of Notre Dame to transfer, and it didn't. Perhaps Disney and the Public are simply looking at Hercules to see if it's in good enough shape to be licensed by schools and other community groups. Or maybe they're just testing the material to see if it's any good, period.
So is Broadway in the cards for Hercules? It's impossible to say for sure. And that's the gospel truth.