Arts & Entertainment

MUSICAL REVIEW: ‘EPIC’ by Jorge Rivera-Herrans

Puerto Rican playwright Jorge Rivera-Herrans has created a beautifully crafted, loose adaptation of Homer’s epic, the Odyssey. 

Jorge Rivera-Herrans is an actor, composer, playwright and lyricist from Dorado, Puerto Rico. From an early age, Jorge has loved storytelling. As an anime and videogame fan, he specifically enjoyed the intricacies of character arcs and complex plot devices. Some genres that he seemed to gravitate the most towards were fantasy-dramas and action-adventures.  

He aims to share this passion with his fans by emulating the sense of progression that is common in videogames. Having main characters reach their objectives and encounter obstacles along the way can cause listeners to be fully immersed as if they were a part of the quest, or in this case, the epic.  

Jorge’s most popular work to date is his newest musical, “EPIC.” It is a loose adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey”, centering around the decade-long quest that Odysseus must endure to make it back home to his wife and son in Ithaca. The musical is divided into sagas, and currently consists of five sagas, with more to come next year.  

Each saga divides the epic’s most climactic moments, where Odysseus experiences moral turbulence and uses his quick wits to get himself out of the most precarious situations. 

The first saga, “The Troy Saga,” introduces us to our hero, Odysseus, the king of Ithaca who victoriously led the war efforts during the Trojan wars. Odysseus and his crew have survived the bloody battle, but must now sail the seas to go back home. Odysseus takes this time to disclose an unspoken morally corrupt action that he chose to make to protect his family and fellow gladiators.  

During their journey, the men begin to run out of food and find themselves on a mysterious island inhabited by lotus eaters. As they are led towards a cavern said to contain all the food they need, Odysseus reminisces about the past teachings of his mentor, the warrior goddess Athena.  

This segues into our next saga, “The Cyclops Saga.” The men make it to the sheep and food-filled cavern, but are faced with the bloodthirsty Cyclops, Polyphemus. The monster seems resolute to eat the men after they have killed his favorite sheep, but Odysseus attempts to bargain by offering Polyphemus wine.  

The exchange ends in bloodshed though, as the cyclops pledges to take 600 lives and crushes the majority of Odysseus’s crew. As per the epic, Odysseus manages to blind the cyclops, but decides to spare its life, disclosing his identity in the process. This goes against Athena’s teachings, so she decides to part ways from her pupil.  

“The Ocean Saga” touches on the crews return to the seas, newly attempting to find their way back to Ithaca. Though they are now closer, a storm is brewing on the horizon. The crew attempts to keep their ship afloat. During the struggle, the crew look up to find a floating island in the sky. They fire harpoons at it to raise the ship above water and succeed. 

After this second near-death experience, there are some rising tensions between the second-in-command and Odysseus, as his leadership is being questioned. Aeolus, this wind god, gifts Odysseus the raging storm that was beneath them in a bag. He is warned that opening it would mean being blown far away from his home. 

After Odysseus decides to take a brief respite and close his eyes, his men decide to open the bag, blowing them away to the land of the giants. As the ship halts, they hear an imposing voice. Poseidon, God of the ocean, has come to punish the men for the injuring of the cyclops who is revealed to be Poseidon’s son. Only Odysseus’s ship remains. But just as Poseidon prepares to attack him directly, Odysseus opens the bag of storms once more and escapes just in time. 

Following this, “The Circe Saga” begins as the last remaining ship is washed up onto Circe’s Island. Circe, a witch of great power, curses Odysseus’s men as they are exploring the island by inviting them to lounge and eat a banquet. The rest of the men are lost, turned into pigs. Odysseus decides to confront this witch himself. 

Feeling sympathetic towards Odysseus, Circe decides to help him by advising him to seek the help of the prophet, Tireisas. The problem though, is that he’s dead. So, Odysseus sets off with the last remaining members of his crew to the Underworld.  

“The Underworld Saga” introduces us to the underworld as a domain. Odysseus experiences the full might of his guilt and grief over the decisions he’s made and those who have died. It is also here where he finds out that a loved one has died in their wait for his return.  

Odysseus finally reaches the prophet, and is met with a ghastly revelation. Bloodshed will continue to follow him until his dying breath, and a new king is set to take his throne and wife. If Odysseus were to make it back home, he will no longer be the man he used to be. His morals will be bent, and no matter what, death is inevitable.  

In the final track, Odysseus decides to become the monster in this story. If it means that this will guarantee the lives of his wife and child to be spared, he’ll do whatever has to be done to ensure that. He will no longer show mercy towards his enemies. 

As for my thoughts on this musical, Jorge is a masterful composer and truly knows how to make both catchy and beautiful tracks. One problem that I’ve consistently found in musicals is that they seem to have the same broadway-esque musicality, which is not enjoyable to everyone. 

Jorge produces music that is both theatrical and listener friendly. The EPIC sagas are diverse, ranging from R&B inspired beats to fully orchestrated ballads. Yet what I love the most about it is how it all fits together so perfectly. Though most of us know the story of “The Odyssey,” you are still engaged and grow attached to the characters. 

There are funny quips, complex emotional dilemmas and a drastic character arc in our main character, hence making it a successful and beloved piece of media. I have no doubts that this musical will continue to grow, and hopefully make it to the big leagues someday as it is still new.  

In recent months, the musical has risen to the trending tabs on TikTok after the “Circe” and “Underworld” sagas dropped. By far the “Underworld” saga is my favorite. The titular song for that saga was absolutely heart wrenching.  

I urge all of you to listen to the entire musical, which is out on Spotify, Apple music and YouTube. I also recommend following Jorge Rivera-Herrans through TikTok if you’d like to stay updated on the musical’s progress. I know I’ve been eagerly waiting for every new saga release. 

‘Featured image’ Jorge Rivera-Herrans posing for his website in 2022. Photo by Jose Pita Juarez