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Greeking Out: 6 Musicals Inspired by Greek and Roman Mythology

Category Broadway

|by Mark Robinson |

‘Hadestown’ and ‘Hercules’ are the latest musicals inspired by myths

The Gods be praised! With The Lightning Thief coming to Broadway this season, Hercules wrapping up a run in Central Park, and Hadestown being last season’s Tony-winning toast of the town, it seems that mythology has become the in-fashion inspiration for Broadway musicals as of late. This is hardly the first time creators of musical theater have looked to the world of Mount Olympus, it’s Gods and Goddesses, and the humans who fall into their path as inspiration. Today, let’s get our Greek (and Roman) on, and look at some of the other musicals inspired by mythology.

Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad in ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad in ‘Hadestown’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

By Jupiter
In 1942, the composing team of Rodgers and Hart decided to incorporate many legends of Mt. Olympus in the musical comedy By Jupiter. Set among the Amazons where women rule, Theseus and Hercules show up in search of the Sacred Girdle of Diana, currently in the possession of Queen Hippolyta. Instead of achieving their goal, the men and their army are taken captive by the Amazons. In the course of the imprisonment, Antiope, the leader of the female warriors, falls in love with Theseus. Starring in By Jupiter was Ray Bolger, who had endeared himself to film audiences just a few years earlier playing the “Scarecrow” in The Wizard of Oz

One Touch of Venus
The Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash/S.J. Perelman musical One Touch of Venus takes its lead from the Pygmalion myth, but in a (then) contemporary setting. Written and produced in 1943, One Touch of Venus starred Mary Martin as a statue of the title character who is magically brought to life when a when a barber named Rodney jokingly slips the engagement ring intended for his girlfriend on her stony finger. Once awakened, she falls hopelessly in love with the barber, following him all over NYC. One Touch of Venus is particularly remembered for the romantic ballad “Speak Low.” George Bernard Shaw also wrote a play called Pygmalion based on the myth, and his version would ultimately be turned into the musical My Fair Lady.

Out of This World
With a lively score by the great Cole Porter, and a book by Dwight Taylor and Reginald Lawrence, Out of This World (1950) is based on the Plautus comedy Amphitryon. Set in Mount Olympus and on the earth at its base, the Roman Gods Mercury and Jupiter are bored. To liven things up, they toy with humans, in this case a pair of newlyweds named Helen and Art, insinuating themselves in their lives. Adding to the shenanigans is Jupiter’s wife, Juno, who also enjoys practical joking humanity. Out of This World was not a giant hit (it ran 157 performances), but it did yield one of Porter’s greatest songs in “From This Moment On.”

The Golden Apple
A unique twist on Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Golden Apple transplants the action from Ancient Greece and sets it instead in Washington State at the turn of the 20th century. In the town of Angel’s Roost, Ulysses has just returned from serving in the Spanish-American War, only to leave his wife again and embark on a ten-year journey to find Helen, the wife of an influential townsman who has made-off with a traveling salesman. The sung-through musical opened on Broadway in 1954 with music by Jerome Moross and book and lyrics by John Latouche. Though it enjoyed only a short run of 125 performances, The Golden Apple developed a cult following among musical theatre aficionados.

The Happiest Girl in the World
Drawing its inspiration from the Aristophanes play Lysistrata, the 1961 musical The Happiest Girl in the World is all about women and the power they can wield in the lives of men. Sick and tired of their husbands always being at war, the wives of Ancient Greece and the wives of Ancient Sparta concoct a plan to force peace. They will withhold sex from their husbands until they put down their swords. The musical features music by Jacques Offenbach, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, and a book by Fred Saidy and Henry Mayers. This would not be the last time Lysistrata would serve as the inspiration for a Broadway musical. In 2011, Lewis Flynn and Douglas Carter Beane would use the tale to tell of two rivaling college sports teams in Lysistrata Jones.   

The film version of Xanadu has always been treated as a cinematic musical joke: high camp, leg warmers and lots of roller disco-type tunes.  Of course, what better way to bring a film like that to Broadway than to spoof it with even more high camp and roller disco type tunes? Playwright Douglas Carter Bean took the story of Greek Muse Clio, who goes to earth to inspire the artist Sonny Malone, and found ways to mine every possible laugh. Of course Clio falls in love with the kindhearted Sonny, but her two jealous sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, get involved and try their level best to hinder progress and happiness. Opening on Broadway in 2007, Xanadu featured pop song hits by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, including “Magic,” “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and the title song.

Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His forthcoming book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America, will hit the shelves in October, 2019. He maintains a theater and entertainment blog at

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