Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Theater Review: The 12 -- Goodspeed Musicals, CT

 

The cast of Goodspeed's THE 12. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

The 12

Music and Lyrics by Neil Berg
Book and Lyrics by Robert Schenkkan
Directed by John Doyle
Goodspeed Musicals 
Through Oct. 29, 2023

By Lauren Yarger

A compelling story about religion without an agenda? In the theater world, 
this is nothing short of a miracle!

But with a book and lyrics by Robert Schenkkan, told to the beat of a pop-rock score
and lyrics from Neil Berg, that is exactly what Goodspeed Musical audiences witness
in The 12, a moving story of how Jesus’s disciples walk through a journey of sorrow
and faith following his death.

This tale, emotionally staged by Director John Doyle (who doubles as scenic designer), 
focuses on the disciples as they hide out in the upper room (an abandoned industrial
space covered in graffiti) after the crucifixion of Jesus (called Teacher, rather than by name).
They arrive devastated, angry, uncertain and scared about what will happen to them if they
are identified as being affiliated with Jesus. They have conflicts with each other, as well as
a crisis of faith over the loss of their leader. For those not up to speed on who the 12 were,
they are listed in a neat cheat sheet in the show program (which offers more details than here):

  • Andrew (Wonza Johnson), a fisherman
  •  “Bart” (Robert Morrison) a.k.a. Bartholomew
  •  James (Kelvin Moon Loh), brother of John
  •  “Jimmy” (Etai Benson) the other James, often called the brother of Jesus
  •  John (Kyle Scatliffe) brother of James
  • Matt (F. Michale Haynie) the tax collector Matthew
  • Pete (Akron Lanier Watson) Simon Peter, brother of Andrew
  • Phil (Brandon J. Ellis) Philip, friend of Bartholomew
  • Simon (Gregory Treco) the zealot
  •  “Tee” (Mel Johnson Jr.) a.k.a. Thaddeus
  •  “Tom” (Wesley Taylor) doubting Thomas
For those of you who are counting, Judas doesn’t make an appearance. The action takes
place after his death too – possibly at the hands of one of the group. The 12th disciple
completing a last-supper tableau, subtly created by Doyle, is Mary Magdalene (Adrienne
Walker), called “Mags” by Jimmy, who might be more than just a friend, and the rest.
In a nice choice, Mary, the mother of Jesus (Rema Webb), also gets some stage time and
the two women have some of the most moving and melodic songs of the production.

Mags sings:

So much pain

Heart so sore

Thoughts so bleak

Please, no more.

Neared his tomb

Lightening flashed;

Heard a savage roar.

The earth rose up!

An awful sound.

Choked by dust

Fell to the ground.

I heard the stones go crashing by;

Terrified that I would die.

The shaking stopped

Then broke the dawn

Revealed his grave -

The rock was gone.


Powerful stuff in there.

The storytelling, even with some more modern elements like guitars on stage and police
sirens blaring while the disciples wear more modern looking clothing in dark hues
(Ann Hould-Ward, costumes), never loses its way because it stays anchored in the scriptures
and pure human emotion to which everyone can relate. Who hasn’t suffered a devastating
loss? Who hasn’t felt betrayed? Who hasn’t felt terrified of what lies ahead? If you ever have
experienced a real-life nightmare from which you can’t awaken, you’ll relate to the emotions
being expressed by each character. Excellent storytelling by Schenkkan (who has a Pulitzer
for The Kentucky Cycle and a Tony for All the Way.)

This also isn’t a feel-good, just-have-faith tale either. There is no attempt to convert or
condemn. Much like God himself, the creators of this work give free choice. What you
believe is up to you (and this show will unlikely offend regardless of what religion you
follow). Instead, they offer a genuine story of human emotion and the search for something
in which to believe, then cling to, even when faith has been dashed. Despite their renewed
hope, the disciples are very much aware of the price they will pay for following their beliefs.
When they leave the safety of their hideout to go out into the world to share their faith, it’s an
inspiring moment, thanks to the direction of Doyle who brings his Tony-award-winning
experience -- and apparently some long-ago hopes of becoming a priest -- to this project.

Honesty, I kept waiting for the story to veer off in the way most Christian-hostile theater
does: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and had a child; Jesus never claimed to be
the son of God or was illegitimate and it all was a ruse by Mary to avoid hide her
pre-wedding sexual activity; Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead and the disciples
carried out a hoax, etc. But it never did. And Thomas, with his many doubts and questions,
gives a voice to those watching who might be skeptical, whether or not they come from a
believing background:

·      “Where’s the proof?”

·      “Could have been a coincidence…”

·      “What if he made a mistake?"

  •  "Why did he have to die?"

The 12 is a Godspell/Jesus Christ Superstar for a new generation. It had a successful run
in Denver, where it won a Henry Award for Outstanding New Musical. You can catch it
at Goodspeed in East Haddam, CT through Oct. 29. Or, if prayers are answered, perhaps
someday on Broadway.

Additional credits: Greg Jarrett, Music Supervisor/Orchestrator; Adam Souza, Music
Director; Ben Covello, Associate Music Director; Japhy Weideman, Lighting Designer;
Jay Hilton, Sound Designer.


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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