The Vortex's star-spanning musical Pythia Dust is out of this world, though it really doesn't go anywhere
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., March 6, 2015
Pythia DustThe Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/477-5282
Through March 8
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.
Upon hearing of the Vortex's current offering, Pythia Dust – billed as a "musical interstellar voyage" – I have to admit my interest was piqued. I love a good, kitschy musical, especially one set in outer space. (Return to the Forbidden Planet, anyone?) This production, directed by Vortex Artistic Director Bonnie Cullum, is a remount of the 2004 version, which featured the same cast: Jo Beth Henderson, Melissa Vogt, and Eryn Gettys, as well as the original score composed by Austin local Chad Salvata.
This show's set has the Vortex looking more aptly named than ever before. Welcome aboard the Pythia Dust, the intergalactic space vessel that zips from planet to planet under the command of three inviting hypernauts: Captain Aranzia, navigator Sintela, and science officer Hypernica. Ann Marie Gordon's scenic design is composed of various gizmos that look at once futuristic and retro. Her imagining of the Pythia Dust's control room, complete with luminescent floors, is reminiscent of both Star Trek and an Eighties-themed bar. Aided by Jason Amato's showy lighting design and Shannon Mott's glittery spandex costumes, the Vortex has transformed into something evocative of a David Bowie concert.
And that's what the production plays as, really; it's more of a concert or a revue than a plot-reliant musical. This is an important distinction, because I must say that I spent at least 40 of the show's 80 minutes searching for the storyline, only to realize that I was grasping at straws. The plot, if that's even the right term here, features the three space travelers bouncing between differently themed planets, each of which has its accompanying song. Unfortunately, the performers never disembark the spaceship, nor do they encounter any new characters – sadly unimaginative for an outer space adventure. The audience's only exposure to these allegedly interesting territories is through the songs, which, frankly, all blended together for me after a while, as did the choreography. Also unfortunate was the lack of clarity with which I could hear the songs – they seemed to be muffled by the live instrumentation, thus obscuring any lyrics that may have been revelatory as to the characters' adventures on each planet.
Still, the three women maintained an impressive stamina, belting out one space song after another and seeming to have a good deal of fun while doing so. Each woman truly owned her performance, playing off of the audience's energy to propel the Pythia onward. Melissa Vogt as Hypernica was an especially captivating performer; her sultry voice and dance moves were perhaps the most entertaining part of the night.
Perhaps I would have enjoyed the evening more had I simply sat back and let the Pythia Dust take me for a ride – plenty of other audience members seemed to be able to do so, whistling and cheering at each new number. For me, though, when I'm promised a journey, I like to feel as though I went somewhere.