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A CurtainUp Review

This school is turning into Sodom! It's up to me to turn the tide.—Hilary Faye, the ultimate Christian good girl at American Eagle Christian High School

I'm not the girl who goes around saving people.—Mary, Hilary Faye's best friend who goes on a saving mission after all when she finds out that her boyfriend may be gay.

I learned long ago there's no one/ who'll deliver me but me —Cassandra, who's the school's only Jewish student, after being kicked out of half a dozen other schools, from the title song.
Celia Keenan-Bolger in Saved
Celia Keenan-Bolger in Saved
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
When MGM released Saved! in 1994 the late televangelist pastor Jerry Falwell denounced the spoof of Evangelical Christian teen agers as "the most hateful movie to come out of Hollywood in years." The film, which yielded lots of amused bravos as well as plenty of Falwell-like comments, has now been made into a musical with the same title, but minus the exclamation point that hinted at its in-your-face humor.

review continues below

Since movie inspired musicals keep coming in a steady stream, if I've missed the movie, I tend to skip watching the DVD, and instead let the spinoff stand on its own. Saved, the musical, is a case in point. However, I did check out the film's casting and production details. I also asked a friend who saw both the movie and a preview production of the musical that's now having its world premiere at Playwrights Horizon if the plot of the stage show departed drastically from the film version. She assured me that, while some plot points have been changed, book and lyric writers John Dempsey and Rinne Groff have hewed quite closely to Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban film script but toned down the spoof sensibility.

Naturally, the biggest change is bound to be that the sound track and the few Christian anthems have been expanded into 17 songs. Unfortunately, to fit in all those songs as well as Sergio Trujillo's choreography the show overall has grown from the movie's 92-minute run time to almost 2 1/2 hours. While Michael Friedman's score played by a small never seen band is pleasant enough, most of the songs sound alike and the events at American Eagle Christian High School make for a show that's basically a variation of the high school movie and after school TV special. It's a heartfelt comedy that wants to offend no one but also be a sassy satire. While the satiric edge is visible, it could be sliced through with a plastic knife.

The talent is top caliber. The cast headliners are Ceilia Keenan-Bolger as Mary, a senior who's part of the school's popular and influential girl singing group, The Christian Jewels and Mary Faber as Hilary Faye, the group's super pious, bossy leader. Both are seasoned musical theater performers. The same is true of Julia Murney as Mary's widowed mother Lillian who ranks #1 among Christian interior decorators and John Dossett, who looks distractingly like Bill Clinton, as Pastor Skip the school's very cool principal. (Yes, Lillian and Pastor Skip, add adult romance to the teen dominated scene—-not to mention some adult sinning, since the Pastor, who was a widower in the movie, is now in a troubled marriage with a far-distant missionary wife).

The problem is not that any of the actors give less than their best, but that what they have to work with doesn't measure up to their talents. The material has obviously been tailored not to come off as an attack against Christianity. The theme is a universal plea against extremism and intolerance. Nothing wrong with that, except that in trying to make the Evangelical Christian culture more universal, the show's creators have sacrificed its potential bite.

That's not to say that there isn't plenty going on at American Eagle Christian High School. Mary and Hilary Faye and their friends love their school and their religion. No troubling doubts or thoughts of breaking the strict moral code. But alas, not everyone is as unquestionably in the fold as Mary and Hilary.

Most shocking is Mary's boyfriend Dean (Aaron Tveit) telling her he thinks he's gay which leads to her having a vision of Jesus (a droll Daniel Zaitchik, who also handles two other minor parts) which Mary sees as a message "to do everything she can to help him" even if it means giving up her virginity. This not only compounds Dean's sin with one with more dire consequences, the worst of which shakes Mary's heretofore invincible beliefs.

And so, from happy insider, Mary becomes part of the nonconformist group that includes Hilary Faye's atheistic brother Roland (Curtis Holbrook) who's wheelchair bound from an accident and Cassandra (Morgan Weed), American Eagle's only Jewish student who's determined bad girl behavior has previously gotten her expelled from half a dozen schools. Cassandra and Roland not only ramp up the shows romantic elements but just about steal the show, though even they can't escape their standard issue characterization.

Another teen who's not willing to swallow Pastor Skips rigid sin, suffer and repent morality is his son Patrick (Van Hughes). He's brought back from missionary work with his mother just in time to help effect a Noah's arc sort of happy ending.

The second act provides the cast with its best musical opportunities. "Heaven" has Hilary Faye, accompanied by the company, pipe dreaming about scenarios that aren't happening. "I'm Not the Man I Thought I'd BeThe Man I Might Have Been" for Pastor Skip, Patrick, Roland and Dean, has a nice rueful quality. " How To" is a winning duet for Mary and Lillian.

Though director Gary Griffin and choreographer Trujillo work hard to keep the musical lively, nothing can save Saved from badly needing enough nips and tucks to eliminate an intermission. Scott Pask's spare set features its share of clever pop-up and drop-down props though having a large portion of the floor tilt up like a ramp serves little purpose. The faux- stained glass rear wall is beautifully lit by Donald Holder. Jess Goldstein's has dressed everyone in bright, snappy outfits and obviously had fun with the hokey pageant outfits.

Saved is not a trainwreck like the recent one-night Broadway wonder, Glory Days. But, like a lot of political campaigns that ultimately don't bring in enough votes, it just tries too hard to please everyone.

Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Book and lyrics by John Dempsey and Rinne Groff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by Gary Griffen
Based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban
Cast: Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mary), John Dossett (Pastor Skip), Julia Murney (Lillian), Mary Faber (Hilary Faye), Josh Breckenridge (Shane), Juliana Ashley Hansen (Lana), Curtis Holbrook (Roland), Van Hughes (Patrick), Jason Michael Snow (Zac), Aaron Tveit (Dean), Emily Walton (Tia),Mogan Weed (Cassandra) Daniel Zaitchik (Jesus, Nurse, Mitch).
Scenic designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Jess Goldstein
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Brian Ronan
Orchestrations: Curtis Moore
Musical Director: Jesse Vargas
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Musicians: Conductor/Keyboards-Jesse Vargas; Associate Conductor/Keyboards -Paul Staroba; Guitars-Jake Schwartz, David Matos; Bass-Steve Gilewski; Drums-Brad Carbone
Production Stage Mnager: Judith Schoenfeld
Stage Manager: Michael McGoff
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes plus 1 intermission.
Playwrights Horizons by special arrangement with Elephant Eye Theatrical, Mainstage Theater 416 West 42nd Street
From 5/09/08; opening 6/03/08; closing 6/22/08.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.
Tickets are $70. $20 rush tickets also available.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 5/31 press preview
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • In the Light of God/ Company
  • I'm Not That Kind of Girl /Mary, Hilary Faye, Lang
  • Orlando /Lillian
  • I Can't Help It (The Love Song) /Hilary Faye, The Christian Jewels
  • What's Wrong With Me? /Dean, Mary, Company
  • Make It True /Patrick, Company
  • Saved/ Cassandra, Roland
  • What Am I Missing? /Pastor Skip, Lillian, Mary, Patrick
  • Prayers Mary, Company
Act Two
  • Something Wrong /Company
  • Changing/ Mary
  • Heaven /Hilary Faye, Company
  • The Pastor's Son / Patrick
  • I'm Not The Man I Thought I'd Be / Pastor Skip, Patrick, Roland, Dean
  • Prayers (reprise) / Cassandra
  • How To /Lillian, Mary
  • ĚProm/ The Christian Jewels, Company
  • Corinthius/Company
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