Myth goes MTV

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2000, 12:00am

One person's idea of heaven can be another's hell, and Kevin Miller's spoof-laden take on a Greek myth promises to milk that idea for all it's worth.

When Orpheus' wife Eurydice dies in Offenbach's Orpheus In The Underworld she enters Hell, though her husband eventually strikes a deal to bring her back into the world. Miller's version for the APA turns the tale on its head and has Eurydice eagerly dashing to the Underworld to escape her philandering, fiddle-playing husband and to find an attentive boyfriend.

The Gods are in shock - Eurydice's actions could threaten the existence of the Greek tourist industry. So under the guidance of notorious womaniser Jupiter, they plan a little fact-finding trip.

Heaven's inhabitants haul themselves off their clouds and decamp like package tourists to Pattaya to check out the wild side. Not surprisingly, the Gods find Hell looking like a nightclub that wouldn't be out of place on Las Vegas' strip. 'No more nectar and blue skies, we'll have a giggle,' they chorus ecstatically.

'Everyone's bored rigid in Heaven,' says Miller, academy head of opera and vocal studies. It's all those eternal infernal blue skies and ambrosia. 'Down in Hell,' he says, 'they discover there's a wonderful time to be had.' When composer Jacques Offenbach first staged Orpheus in 1858, he set it in two short acts - largely because the production lampooned French society to the obvious disapproval of the strait-laced authorities. It quickly became a hit, so later he added four more acts.

Miller, who appeared in a Sadlers Wells version in 1960, has chosen the original form. 'It's slimline because we don't repeat the same song, we just head into the next one. It means we also get through the production in two hours.' To give a contemporary twist, Miller spent four months creating the show as if it were being filmed by a TV crew.

'I conceived it as as television recording and we do actually record it. It gives us the opportunity to introduce modern techniques, such as dry ice, balloons dropping and flying machines.

'Also, a TV setting allows it to be fast moving and we're able to change the sets in front of the audience.' Two TV monitors frame the open stage, which enables the audience to see the offstage action. Miller as floor manager helps give the whole thing the feel of a sitcom being filmed.

He is keen to encourage the audience to join in. In one scene, the cast bursts into song with Teresa Tang's popular version of The Moon Represents My Heart and Miller hopes the audience will do the same.

Faithful followers of Offenbach's original version will be heartened to learn the high-kicking can-can dance has not been sacrificed.

'The can-can is considered to be an Offenbach invention,' says Miller. 'It wasn't acceptable in his day for women to lift up their skirts. It very much plays on a bawdy element and the idea of being a man's possession.' The production, is being staged in French and English, with Chinese and English surtitles.

'We sing most of it in French but when I feel the audience needs to be involved in the action, we revert to English!' Orpheus In The Underworld. APA Drama Theatre. April 7, 8, 11, 12, 14 and 15. 8pm, $90-$140. Call Urbtix: 2734 9009