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A CurtainUp Review
By Brad Bradley
Falling into the sub-genre of folksy and/or charming Bible-derived musicals, The Ark does not overcome memories of the deserving past successes of this type, notably Godspell and the lesser-known Cotton Patch Gospel. Audiences today are more familiar with the current and considerably more hip Altar Boyz, which includes a bit of irony in its creative process. And, thirty-five years ago this month, no less than Richard Rodgers presented his own Noah musical, drawing upon the substantial dramatic source of Clifford Odetsí already successful play The Flowering Peach. By most reports as well as evidence from the cast recording of Two by Two, that show was more than competently rendered into musical form by Rodgers and his collaborators Martin Charnin and Peter Stone. While that production did have the misfortune of a star who used a leg injury as an excuse for jettisoning the script and turning the show into a vaudeville evening with Danny Kaye, it certainly had characters to care about and both music and words to savor.
Vaudeville has landed more intentionally on this version of stirt, although Noah and wife Elizaís first act duet in the mode, "It Takes Two," falls flat. Noah himself is presented as a borscht belt style comic whose chief shtick is bumbling and obvious jokes. Typical is his (presumably scripted) comment to a fairly quiet audience that inferentially constitutes the animal contingent of the vessel, "The hyenas must be sleeping." Unfortunately, the competent and usually more effectively used Adrian Zmed here comes across more as a genial but inept Tony Danza type than a man on a mission from God, and goodness knows, there is little sense of his being challenged as a super-senior facing his 600th birthday. So much more strength could have been given to his character on these counts alone. As his devoted but perplexed wife, Annie Golden, another talented veteran, is utterly believable but similarly is underserved by the material.
The Ark does include several strong numbers including Hamís solo "Whenever He Needs a Miracle"; an amusing trio for the brothers called "Oh Yeah;" and "Hold On," the best moment between Noah and Eliza. These songs, as well as the silly but also amusing "Dinner," sung by the entire company of eight, all generate both musical and dramatic excitement. Others, especially the bland opening, seem as predictable as second or third-tier theme park filler material and are sometimes tiresomely repeated ad infinitum, notably the exasperating "You Must Believe in Miracles." Worse yet, the entire score has been capsized by a horrible sound system that remained painfully shrill on the high notes even after I resorted to necessary earplugs. In fairness to the score, at intermission I was speaking with two musicians from Utah, who had followed the show from its origins there, and their reaction was that the earlier production sounded considerably better both on stage and in its recording (Shadow Mountain, 1998).
Of the designers, Beowulf Boritt in particular has helped the show with a versatile and impressive wooden set that aptly suggests the vastness and variety of the eponymous ark, although visual attempts to suggest rain are totally wasted. The costumes and lighting designs are fine, too; the key failing here is in the writing, which only rarely rises above the mediocre.