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The Ark
by Rob Kendt

©2005 Carol Rosegg
Adrian Zmed & Annie
Golden in The Ark
Imagine if, instead of just singing about devouring folks from all walks of life, Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett sauntered into the audience to find their next meal among the evening's theatergoers. "The one with the stripes!" she would say, handing him a cutting tool and sending him after the specimen in question.

That more or less describes the single provocative moment of Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly's otherwise dopey, simple-minded Bible musical The Ark. The show's main staging gimmick is that we in the audience are the animals, on hand for the water-borne journey through the Great Flood, and we're addressed as such by the cast, sometimes with diverting cleverness. "Sit! Stay," Noah (Adrian Zmed) commands us at one point, demonstrating to his wife Eliza (Annie Golden) how well behaved we are.

When Noah and his family, stuck on a ration of mush for months, suddenly realize there's a potential smorgasbord in reach, they turn carnivore with comic vengeance, singing the praises of "lamb shanks/Sausage franks/Rabbit stew/Sirloin tips/Spare ribs/Barbecue." Eliza even leads the family in the chilling chorus: "Eat them raw!"

Well, that wakes us up. But with the exception of a few big numbers, most of this labored, lukewarm concoction, directed by Ray Roderick, plays like Sunday-school story-theater with higher production values. Beowulf Boritt's woodsy set of the ark's interior wraps up and around the house, and Ryan Powers' sound design scatters animal sounds throughout the theater. So far so good, but then there are Lisa L. Zinni's costumes, which give fair warning of the show's aesthetic chaos. Splitting the difference between generic ancient and casual contemporary, Zinni boldly mixes gingham and spandex, feathers and leather, robes and aprons, sandals and stilettos. If she went any further this might be camp heaven.

If only. It's hard to muster much amusement, even of the ironic sort, at The Ark's flimsy pieties and still flimsier stabs at irreverence. McLean and Kelly's book posits a spiritual struggle between Noah and his eldest son, the doubtful prodigal Ham (D.B. Bonds), who yearns for a little of the trust and attention Dad lavishes on the Almighty. Providing the ostensible lighter side are struggles of the domestic variety between all the married couples on board: between absent-minded Noah and long-suffering Eliza, between sourpuss Ham and his sunny new bride Egyptus (Janeece Aisha Freeman), and between the patriarch's other sons, Shem (Justin Brill) and Japheth (Rob Sutton), and their unsatisfied brides, Martha (Marie-France Arcilla) and Sariah (Jacquelyn Piro).

Story continues below

Neither strand of conflict proves compelling--certainly not enough for a show that stretches a few dozen Bible verses into two acts. Though the tall, stark Bonds renders Ham with an admirably straight-ahead emotional punch, he strikes no sparks against the miscast Zmed, who is too slick and soft-edged to give Noah either the forbidding gravitas or the crusty old-coot humor the part demands; picture Alan Thicke as Tevye. The marital comedy is crudely sexist, with Sariah leading the other wives in a disco workout number ("You have to look your best/It starts with how you dress") and sweet Martha vying with her mother-in-law over daffy, well-meaning Shem, who advises her to take cooking tips from his mom.

Arcilla does manage bring down the house by turning demure passivity into sexual fury in the show-stopping "I Got a Man Who Loves Me." And Freeman gives the first act its rousing gospel climax, "Why Can't We?" But nearly every other number aspires to be charming or heart-stopping, to little avail. McLean's score, played with dutiful competence by music director Joseph Baker's onstage band, churns through its pedestrian pop changes, with occasional glimmers of melodic inspiration effectively dimmed by his and Kelly's plodding lyrics ("And now we're here in the middle of/Something that's bigger than both you and me").

The Noah story has proven a perennial favorite for adaptations, including the Richard Rodgers/Peter Stone/Martin Charnin musical Two by Two. But to make it a passable entertainment, you have to do a song-and-dance around the central fact that, aside from the cute animals and the miraculous shipbuilding, it's a fable of heavenly judgment as stark as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. McLean and Kelly try nobly to have it both ways: to tell a story of divine judgment and mercy, and to create a family-friendly romp. The result in this case is a creaky, leaky vessel.

The Ark
Music by Michael McLean
Lyrics and Book by Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly
Directed by Ray Roderick
37 Arts Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 11/14/2005 3:51:00 PM


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