Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Fred's recent review of Lunar Eclipse
We are in Jerusalem just after Jesus's death and his disciples are distraught, angry, confused, and also frightened. They are in a room and blast away with the first number, "Walk Away," as a unit. The beginning of the show is jarring as a contingent of overly agitated individuals lambaste one another and, really, the audience as well as they thrash about. Later on, this presentation achieves a nice balance as the rock score includes far greater variety; there's also a nice balance of dialogue and song. Robert Schenkkan provides book and lyrics while Neil Berg contributes music and lyrics. John Doyle both directs and designs and Adam Souza is musical director.
Doyle places a larger-than-life crucifix (it seems gigantic) so that it leans against both the stage and a side wall. Otherwise, an exit within the wall comes and goes toward the rear of the stage as, particularly, Mags (Adrienne Walker) and Mother Mary (Rema Webb) enter and depart. "Anyone But Me" is an early highlight when many of the disciplines, through music, contemplate their fates aloud. Jimmy (Etai Benson) and Mags are an involved couple whose interpersonal relationship carries some import. They sing "Magdalene" together. It is Rema Webb's Mother who sings to the rafters with a combined Gospel/soul rendition of "Rain" in a show-stopping moment. The Mourner's Kaddish, recited in Hebrew, immediately follows. Bart (Rob Morrison) and Phil (Brandon J. Ellis), each with an acoustic guitar, are softly effective with "Sweet Dream." Tom (Wesley Taylor) is a bit of an outcast who, at one point, declares, "We all die alone," and that's cogent since one of the underlying questions of the piece revolves around Jesus and the question of why he did die.
Neil Berg's music moves from almost heavy metal at the outset toward a much more melodious mode and, at the concluding segment, a half dozen full company pieces ending with an exclamatory "Our Love." That portion begins with "Lazarus" and accelerates into a pulsating crescendo. It is a stimulating, energetic sequence. Robert Schenkkan is an award-winning bookwriter and lyricist whose words for The 12 match either the vigor or poignancy necessary. Goodspeed's Adam Souza and several musicians complement the actors' strong voices.
One is able to appreciate both the value and thematic intent of this show without having been steeped in a particular religious doctrine. As a rock musical, this one scores many points. The instrumentalists are talented and the music director does well to honor lyrics. The first segment of the presentation, when the apostles are mostly raw with rage, leaves little room for nuance. That might be the initial aim but it's just a bit much to withstand. When the performance yields to softer voices and complicated emotions, that sensitivity leads to a more inspiring artistic product.
Ann Hould-Ward's excellent costuming brings includes jeans, sneakers, jackets, flannel, and other contemporary but well-worn garments. Those choices fit with a group of vexed people who are hyper-stressed, unsure of where they are headed, and staggering with the shock of having lost a person referred to as "teacher."
The decision to stage the work straight through without intermission is wise because the immediacy of the predicament and the vibrancy of the music are continual from the opening moment of the production. These folks are in severe distress and unable to rationally process a way forward after the crucifixion. The music provides them with an outlet, a means to vent, and the Goodspeed show is both appealing and more effective perhaps fifteen minutes into its evolution.
The 12 runs through October 29, 2023, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-873-8668 or visit Goodspeed.org.