Podcast 'Live from Mount Olympus' readies for new adventure

The podcast series “Live from Mount Olympus” is returning this month with the same Broadway swagger but with a new hero plucked from the pantheon of mythical Greek deities

Theater-Podcast-Live from Mount Olympus
Theater-Podcast-Live from Mount Olympus

The podcast series “Live from Mount Olympus” is returning this month with the same Broadway ingenuity and the delightful André De Shields but with a new hero plucked from the pantheon of mythical Greek deities.

The 10-episode second series focuses on Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, who is suddenly stolen away to the underworld. She is voiced by Joanne Hernandez.

“She’s a young girl just trying to meet the expectations of her mom like any young girl would, and she just goes through a journey of learning,” says Hernandez. “We don’t see a lot of young women coming of age and growing into their skin as they get older.”

The genius of the series is it's ability to inject the dusty myths with modern empathy, ditching stiff ancient language for delightful modernity. “That’s messed up!” one character will say. “Cool, I got this,” another will declare.

There’s more than a bit of Broadway baked into its DNA, with co-direction from Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin of “Hadestown” and “Hadestown” associated director Keenan Tyler Oliphant. De Shields reprises his role as Hermes, which he won a Tony for in “Hadestown.” (Hermes likes to call the podcast the “Gods’ pod.”)

Chavkin says the project “slightly came out of left field” during the pandemic but has become a joy to work on. She says the Greek myths are far from dusty old stories — but vibrant and present.

“A myth is a myth because it actually lives somewhere in our hearts and in how our brains work. They come from questions, like ‘Why are we afraid of the dark?’ Or they come from us thinking about why the sky poured water on us sometimes,” she says.

“These stories capture something that’s already happening, and I think has been happening and will be happening as long as there are people.”

The series — featuring performers from the Brooklyn-based theater ensemble the TEAM and produced by the Onassis Foundation and TRAX from PRX — was created by Julie Burstein, creator of public radio’s “Studio 360” with Kurt Andersen.

The second season drops April 19 and will be hosted by theater veteran Ching Valdes-Aran playing Hecate, with cameos by Anna Kendrick and Isabella Rossellini. The series is targeted for tweens, but the whole family can enjoy its pop culture references with everything from lightsabers to Marty McFly.

The new season opens with Persephone complaining about her role. “So many flowers and all I do is choose their colors,” she says to her mom. Demeter snaps back: “You're a goddess. There's no time for self-pity. Every god of Mount Olympus has a role to play. Imagine if we all walked around second-guessing our work?” To which her daughter says: “Maybe we should.”

“These stories have entertainment quality, but there’s so much depth and meaning to them, and that’s why they blossom over the span of time,” says Oliphant, who joins the podcast this season.

The first season of “Live from Mount Olympus” focused on Perseus, who battled Medusa and rescued his future wife Andromeda from peril. “I’m just a boy standing in front of a girl asking if we could fight a sea monster,” he told her.

The show’s humor and pathos is underscored by sound design that feels real — oars pulling through water, thunder crashing and flames licking. Some of the lessons from season one include: Origins don’t define you and violence always leaves a mark.

The Greek gods have never exactly gone out of favor, but they’ve had a recent pop culture boost thanks to Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” novels and George O’Connor’s series of graphic novels.

Hernandez says the podcast brings the myths alive and relevant by, ironically, making the gods human. They are sometimes impulsive, anxious, egotistical and frustrated.

“The Greek gods are supposed to be these powerful people who don’t have any problems. The myth is that they control all these aspects of our world,” she says.

“I feel like to show the fact that even a Greek goddess can have the problems that you know a 13- or 10-year-old girl could have it really think like, ‘Oh, wow, she’s just like me.’"

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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