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‘Medea: The Musical’: Greek Antiquity’s Femme Fatale Takes Center Stage

Zac Sardi-Santos ’26 and Gunnhildur F. Hallgrímsdóttir ’25 in "Medea: The Musical" at the Agassiz Theatre.
Zac Sardi-Santos ’26 and Gunnhildur F. Hallgrímsdóttir ’25 in "Medea: The Musical" at the Agassiz Theatre. By Courtesy of Isabelle A. Lu
By Vikram M. Kolli, Crimson Staff Writer

“Medea: The Musical” had everything: A live, on-stage band striking chords; Lin-Manuel Miranda-style raps and melodies packed with witticisms; and a diverse cast taking center stage to produce a modern take on an old — specifically, 2000 years old — tale of female rage, revenge, and madness.

Performed at the Agassiz Theatre from March 21 to March 23, the musical was produced by the Harvard Classical Club in collaboration with the Center for Hellenic Studies, a move aimed to fulfill the organizations’ goal to make Classics and Hellenic studies accessible to all, especially those unaware of the timeless themes pervading drama from antiquity.

Originally a tragedy written by Roman playwright Seneca in 50 C.E., director Sara J. Li’s take on the lasting tale centered on the psychology of Medea, played by Gunnhildur F. Hallgrímsdóttir ’25, a descendant of the gods with the divine power of prophecy. Throwing audience members into the climax of the story, the show allowed listeners to piece together her tragic narrative with great artistic support from translator Elena K. Lu ’26 and music by Chris B. Ruiz ’26 and Paul Palmer ’26.

In classical mythology, Medea, the wife of Jason (Zac Sardi-Santos ’26), employed her magical mastery and wit to aid him in obtaining the Golden Fleece. The musical itself unfolded in the city of Corinth, post-Jason’s heroic quest, the drama commencing with Medea consumed by fury over Jason's betrothal to Glauce, the daughter of King Creon (Preston C. Bushnell ’26). The nurse (Gemma I. Dean ’27) caught a glimpse of Medea’s anguish, trembling at the harm she may inflict upon herself and her offspring.

In line with the core of the original play, the cast of “Medea: The Musical” captured the emotions and depth of every character. Hallgrímsdóttir depicted an oscillation of intense passion, manipulating those around her to plot her grand scheme of murdering Glauce as revenge against Jason, while simultaneously projecting her hesitations towards adding infanticides to her murderous schemes. Owning the striking image of a blood-soaked dress, Hallgrímsdóttir did the character justice, conveying her intensity and complex moral compass.

Dean as the nurse maintained a similar energy, employing crescendos of dialogue and breaks in the fourth wall to illustrate the fear she harbors for Medea’s madness. While she played the voice of reason, her power was not enough to triumph over Medea’s conviction and ultimate decisiveness. Audience members were caught between a battle of emotional justification and moral reason, constantly captivated by both compelling lines of decision-making.

It was this pair’s seriousness and commitment to their characters that balanced out the unseriousness and perfect satire of the others. Sardi-Santos performed as Jason with contoured abs and a boyishness marking him as the playboy of Corinth. His asides were modern, with emotes mimicking a modern day boyfriend fed up with his girlfriend’s overthinking and mania. During one highlight, his joke about “repopulation” was perfectly delivered with a comedic thrust of his torso towards the audience.

Bushnell’s Creon also demonstrated the satirical aspects of the show, stealing the stage with his sassy remarks towards all of the characters threatening to install any type of democracy. With a cane too short to touch the floor and expressiveness that filled the theater, his pushiness towards Medea and assertive disdain for her presence created a comedic interpretation of the Corinthian king.

These elements were supplemented by the background characters of the musical’s production. The chorus trio, reminiscent of the omnipresent Fates and their divine orchestration, stole the show in the exposition and concluding musical number with their harmonies and command of the melody. The messenger and citizen, with cameos to break up the intense plot, added a touch of entertaining absurdity.

Ruiz and Palmer’s music within the show was fast-paced and packed with historical material, with raps that occasionally carried the storyline to fill in the plot’s gaps. The style then turned on itself, ending with a final number intuiting an almost indifferent notion that infanticide and mania happen on the daily in Corinth. The music became an integral part of the storytelling, enhancing the audience's engagement with an exploration of dark themes and additional satirical impact. Combined with the simplistic set that allowed focus on the characters, the cast commanded attention at the center of the stage.

Medea is merciless and vengeful, with a heart full of betrayal towards others and herself. She is the femme fatale of Corinth, her story ending with a bang and a chariot that carries her away into the sun. No matter if viewers were familiar with the tragedy, the acting, music, and design created an ambivalence for Medea, not necessarily depicting her as a villain or a hero, but a woman fighting for her power and recognition in the patriarchal society of antiquity.

“Medea: The Musical” ran at the Agassiz Theatre from March 21 to 23.
—Staff writer Vikram M. Kolli can be reached at vikram.kolli@thecrimson.com.

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