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“The God Who Dared to be Different”: Music Theatre of Madison to Present “Hephaestus”


Music Theatre of Madison (MTM) is getting ready to present their world premiere of “Hephaestus,” a musical about the Greek “god of fire” written by homegrown composer Nathan Fosbinder, at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Fredric March Play Circle.

“I think anyone who ever felt like an underdog is going to resonate with the show,” actor Caleb Mathura tells Madison365.

He will perform the role of the titular character. Hephaestus (heh-FEST-us) is the story of “the God who dared to be different.” The musical chronicles the adventures of the lame-legged and often overlooked God of Fire and his mother casting him down from Mount Olympus. Well-known Gods Hera, Zeus, Demeter, Dionysus, Athena, Hermes, Ares, and Aphrodite are also part of Hephaestus’ story.

“Everybody has a point in their life where they feel like they don’t belong or aren’t understood. The musical Hephaestus allows people to relate not only in that sense but to love as well. To love unconditionally and to not be loved back. It’s heartbreaking and I think audiences will be able to relate to that,” Actor Bryanna Plaisir said.

Music director Mark Wurzelbacher plays piano as composer Nathan Fosbinder looks on.
(Photo by Sharon White)

Plaisir, who portrays Kabeiro, said it’s rewarding to play a character that has never been played before. She also said learning all the songs has been exciting as well. Local musician Mark Wurzelbacher created all of the orchestrations for the musical.

“Our theatre company is focused on what’s new and different … what’s next,” MTM Executive Director Meghan Randolph said.

“Hephaestus” is the first show to complete the Wisconsin New Musicals Cycle, a program developed by MTM as a laboratory for Wisconsin-based writers and composers to workshop and create new musicals. Throughout the process, Fosbinder received significant feedback from community members as they workshopped the project.

This meant MTM held a workshop of Hephaestus where audiences voted between two renderings of sets and costumes, heard early demos, perused inspirations for the design, and enjoyed Greek food before seeing a semi-staged reading of the show. Then, audiences were invited to share their thoughts with the composer and other artists after the performance.

“That was the first time we had done on that level. Most of the shows we had done, all of the shows we had done up to that point had been written already so we had to deal with licensing,” Randolph said.

(L-r) Leslie Cao, Andi Janeway, and Derek Argall rehearse “Hephaestus.”
(Photo by Sharon White)

She described the workshopping of Hephaestus as “challenging, but in a good way.” Randolph explained that MTM wanted the show to feel like it started and got its roots in Madison. The show will feature all original songs written by Fosbinder, someone the cast enjoys working with.

“It’s been great getting to work with Nathan, the one who wrote the show,” Mathura said.

He said Fosbinder has been able to tweak some of the musical numbers to fit his voice as an artist. Mathura relates to Fosbinder as someone who participated in the theatre in high school. Fosbinder graduated from La Follette High School before attending the Boston Conservatory.

Before the opening of the musical, he will also work with the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Marcia Legere Bins Distinguished Playwright Residency Fund to hold a masterclass for students prior to the opening of “Hephaestus.” Students from the UW campus organization InterMission Theatre will each be assigned a piece written by Fosbinder and work on it for a performance and masterclass on Aug. 4 at the Play Circle Theatre.

Performances of “Hephaestus” will commence the weekend of Aug. 16- 17 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee show at 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 and will conclude the following weekend with shows running Aug. 23- 24 at 7:30 p.m. Randolph encourages residents to purchase tickets as the show offers something for everyone.

“The theme is family but also self-love, self-acceptance and in some ways even finding the mistakes in yourself and the assumptions you make in certain people,” she said.