After a grand Pippin-style introductory opening, one exhilarating number follows another in acclaimed theater maker Taylor Mac’s The Hang. Derived from jazz and opera, this vibrant musical fantasia is inspired by the Greek philosopher Socrates’ last hours in 399 BC Athens. He’d been sentenced to death by drinking the poison hemlock for “corrupting the youth” and “impiety.” The show is based on his student Plato’s account of these events. As there’s a homoerotic strain to the Greek philosophical milieu, The Hang has a raucous queer vibe.
Mac’s clever book is a framework of jokes, gags and exposition. Mac’s lyrics are witty, often comical and at times grave, such as for Socrates’ dying aria. “The Party’s Over” is a theme. Mac also grandly portrays Socrates with his impish presence and tremendous vocal abilities.
Composer Matt Ray’s jazz-driven score is a delightful blend of Dixieland and traditional jazz with operatic flourishes. The sensational band consists of Mr. Ray on keys, Gary Wang on bass, Joel E. Mateo on drums, J. Walter Hawkes on trombone, Lisa (Paz) Parrott on alto saxophone, Greg Glassman on trumpet, Jessica Lurie on baritone and tenor saxophone, and Jonathan Beshay on tenor saxophone.
The band is wrapped around scenic designer Machine Dazzle’s sizable circular bare playing area which variously has a small stool, wheeled platforms, a wheeled staircase, and round sofas. Plato’s white office is elevated, and gauzy white fabrics encase lighting up above the playing area. The effect is of a dreamy otherworldly landscape.
The dynamic ensemble includes Kenneth Ard, El Beh, Kat Edmonson, Queen Esther, Wesley Garlington, Synead Cidney Nichols, Trebian Pollard, and Ryan Chittaphong (as Plato) who uniformly stand out in their various colorful roles. Chanon Judson’s superior choreography is energetically performed by the cast.
The characters are all fabulously depicted with Greek mythological flare due to Machine Dazzle’s lavish eye-catching costume design that includes gossamer garments, flowing robes, a codpiece and other cool accessories. Anastasia Durasova’s rich makeup design and the outlandish wigs and beards add further enhancement. Lighting designer Kate McGee achieves a fantastical timeless dimension with a variety of hues and dimness. Cricket S. Myers’ sound design deftly realizes the live music, singing and speaking.
Director Niegel Smith’s consummate staging harnesses all the elements into a rollicking spectacle with serious overtones. A highlight of Mr. Smith’s presentational ingenuity is having three saxophone players periodically come center stage to perform, as well as a saxophone and a trumpeter offering thrilling solos centerstage.
The Hang is packed with stagecraft and not concerned with a discernable plot, so it gets to be too much by the end of its straight through hour and 45 minutes. Still, it’s another of Taylor Mac’s challenging, distinctive and entertaining works.
The Hang (extended through March 6, 2022)
HERE, 145 Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-647-0202 or visit http://www.here.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission