Spirituality and Song in “Myths and Hymns”

This weekend, the Theater & Dance Department debuted Sterling Kee ’23’s senior thesis performance “Myths and Hymns,” which explores themes of self-discovery and the human relationship to the divine. Olivia Lynch ’25 reflects on the transcendent nature of the performance.

Spirituality and Song in “Myths and Hymns”
The idea of the "Saturn return," an astrological crystallization of adulthood, winds through Kee’s thesis. Photo courtesy of Shelley Kee.

Holden Experimental Theater was the place to be this weekend, as it served as the hypnotic backdrop for Sterling Kee ’23’s senior thesis performance of “Myths and Hymns,” by Adam Guettel. I was lucky to secure a seat; the show was sold out for all three nights.

I found myself overwhelmed by the performance’s ambiguity, beauty, and themes of spirituality and self-actualization, all supported by an unbelievably talented cast. “Myths and Hymns” is best characterized as a “song cycle” as opposed to a musical. There is no narrative plot to speak of, nor are there stable, continuous characters. The music is performed as though it were a concert, with no spoken dialogue punctuating the show, featuring a wide range of genres including gospel, ballads, and traditional musical theater. The throughlines that unify the performance are the exploration of the relationship between human beings and the divine, and a commitment to its two titular elements.

When I first saw “Myths and Hymns,” I didn’t understand it all. It seemed like there was so much going on, and without a narrative to hang on to, I found myself lost. However the longer I sat in that theater, as I spent more time paying attention to the lyrics and the actors, I began to hear what Kee and his cast were saying.

The show opens with a haunting song called “Saturn Returns.” Kee enters the stage alone, holding a candle and contemplating his relationship with the stories about to unfold. I was immediately captivated by the sweetness of his voice, which started off soft and reflective. As the rest of the cast joined in, the music swelled with longing and frustration. It is worth noting the impact of Kee’s vocal talent on this piece and throughout the show. His tone, range, and grasp of character were astounding.

I mention this opening song with such enthusiasm because of its triumphant reprise at the conclusion of the show. Kee notes in his opening remarks that the reprisal provides an important framework for the production because it creates a sense of time and place in an otherwise ambiguous series of musical numbers. In astrology, a “Saturn Return” occurs when Saturn revisits the place in the sky where it was at a person’s birth. Astrologists assign significance to the end of this 29.5-year cycle as a moment where one reaches a more crystallized form of adulthood.

This idea struck me as I watched Lydia Silver ’25 portray the movements of the stubborn Pegasus in a petty argument with the mythical Bellerophon, as Aidan Gemme ’26 and Annika Paylor ’24 struggled with the depths of depression through a stunning display of vocal strength in “Build a Bridge,” and as Ian Dopp ’24 and Clay Zachery ’23E pushed boulders around the stage as Sisyphus. Bella Lozier ’26 portrayed a moral tension around abortion with her angelic voice and acting talent, and Faith Omosefe ’26 lifted my soul through her powerful vocal performance of “There’s a Shout.”

“Myths and Hymns” is a story about self discovery. It’s about the kinds of life-changing decisions and identity-defining moments that we encounter on the journey we all take to reach adulthood and reunite with Saturn. Director Ron Bashford says in his director’s notes that “Myths and Hymns” is a story where the performers ask questions to the audience rather than telling them a story. They ask us to reflect and to laugh and to think critically about what we want for ourselves.

In Kee’s opening remarks, he mentioned that he is seven years away from his own Saturn return. After falling in love with this performance and its cast, I can’t help but think about all of the incredible things that await this well-deserving senior in all that he goes on to do after his time at Amherst.