The first piece of Disney’s Hercules that Chase Brock choreographed was “The Gospel Truth Part 1”—the very top of the show. And then he choreographed it again. And then four more times. From the six versions Brock created, audiences will see the ultimate sequence when the Public Works production of Hercules bows August 31 at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.
“When we said, ‘How are we going to translate this to the stage?’ there’s Greek pottery in the film telling the backstory—what would probably be a shadow play if we were doing this indoors,” Brock explains. “But doing it at eight o’clock in late August, it’s not completely dark at that point and we don’t have full control of the lights, so we really had to find what is our vase. So I came up with six versions.”
When it comes to the beloved Disney animated film about the Greek god turned mortal and his quest to become a “true hero,” Brock aimed to preserve the energy of the original movie and the need to tell this new musical version—no matter how many versions it took. “On a number that our generation has been singing for 20 years [like “Zero to Hero”], you have expectations and ideas of what it’s going to be when it comes to life in three dimensions right in front of you,” says Brock. “A new song, we have a responsibility to make sure the audience hears every lyric because usually there is some sort of narrative point we’re trying to make clearer or depart from the film. Every audience is only going to have one time to hear it and catch it.” Brock won’t be pulling out the physical pyrotechnics when you need to absorb new words, but all bets are off with Alan Menken and David Zippel’s familiar tunes.
With “Zero to Hero,” Brock was looking for “all the things we could do to honor what the animated feature did and take it a step further for the stage,” he says, which led him to lean into the gospel tradition of that particular song. “It felt like tambourines were too delicious to ignore” (as you can see in the video above where Brock teaches the full choreography to the song’s dance break).
But this production of Hercules also presented different challenges than any other screen to stage musical adaptation. “We’re doing a brand new Disney musical comedy on stage in live action and we’re doing a 200-member community pageant—outdoors,” says Brock. As part of the Public Theater’s Public Works program, Hercules, like all Public Works shows, “widens the idea of who we view as an artist and who we think can be on our stages and what we think community is.”
And Brock’s choreography capitalizes on the talent in his cast, integrating styles into a mash-up “where ancient Greece meets New York City today meets Mars.”
“There may be a number in which you see the Passaic High School marching band—which is one of our cameo groups—alongside eight Equity Broadway stars, alongside 120 members of a community ensemble,” says Brock. Community members seamlessly weave into the cast; two of the five Muses are community members, as is Pain (while Hades and his other henchman Panic are Broadway’s Roger Bart and Jeff Hiller, respectively). Six community members make up a dance group called The Cosmos and 14 comprise the puppet corps, nine play Greek gods and dozens play the inhabitants of Thebes.
When Brock steps back to observe his creation, it’s the blur between professional and amateur that feels like success. “I’m really proud of having 200 New Yorkers doing the same steps under the same stars in the last piece of the evening, ‘A Star Is Born,’” he says. “That moment feels like the transcendent moment, really proving the mission of Public Works.”
Watch the video above to learn the choreography from Hercules’ “Zero to Hero.”