4 Stars to THE 12 by Neil Berg at the Denver Center

The cast brings a vigor and inspired diversity of voices to "The 12."

“Something visceral and vivid is taking place at the Denver Center, where the musical THE 12 is receiving its world premiere.  Robert Schenkkan wrote the book and Neil Berg the music. The two share credit for the lyrics of this boldly compassionate work that imagines the disciples’ very human angst in the hours after their teacher was executed.  Let there be long shadows. Let there be anguish and suspicion. Let there be deep fear and hard-wrought faith. So might go the promise of this beautifully performed work.”

Reviewer Lisa Kennedy gives THE 12, a musical explaining the anguish-filled moments after the Disciples learn what has happened to Jesus, a 4-star rating.

To read the full raving review, or to learn more about ticket information and the musical, click HERE.

 

THE WIZ to be NBC’s Next Live-Musical Event, Produced by Cirque-du-Soleil

The Wiz 1

NBC has revealed that The Wiz will be the network’s third annual live-musical event. The latest adaptation of the 1974 Broadway show, Book by William F. Brown with Musical and Lyrics by Charles Smalls, a retelling of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast and a Quincy Jones-produced soundtrack, will be co-produced by Cirque du Soleil’s theatrical division.

After the musical airs live on NBC on December 3rd, the new Wiz will then “Ease on Down the Road” to Broadway with a revival scheduled for the 2016/’17 season.

To read the whole article by Rolling Stone, click HERE.

Neil Berg’s THE 12 to Premiere

THE 12, which premieres at Denver Center Theatre Company March 27–April 26 under Richard Seyd’s direction, began as a concept by composer/lyricist Neil Berg, who initially had the idea of “conflating iconic rock figures with the apostles,” said Robert Schenkkan in a recent phone interview. That specific idea appealed to Schenkkan less than the notion of “both Christianity and rock and roll as revolutionary moments.”

…Traditionally the disciples were said to retreat to an “upper room,” in many accounts the site of what had been their last supper with Jesus, until reports that Jesus’s tomb was empty—and that some in the group had seen and spoken with their slain leader—began to spread.

“Essentially, they’re hiding out, but 72 hours later they leave the room having somehow overcome their terror and their grief, their sense of betrayal, ready to preach a whole new doctrine,” said Schenkkan.

So what happened in the interim? Given that Jesus is not listed as a character in the playbill, we can assume that Berg and Schenkkan’s answer is not the obvious reverential one. But, as Schenkkan explained, there are sound dramaturgical and even theological reasons to leave the purported grave-break offstage.

To read more about THE 12, please visit the American Theatre’s article: http://www.americantheatre.org/2015/03/13/what-would-jesuss-disciples-do-in-new-musical-the-12-they-rock-out/.

Neil Berg and Robert Schenkkan.

BWW Reviews: Mills and Reichel’s THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence

by Michael Dale

Nine and a half years ago, tucked away in the tiny Connelly Theater at the further reaches of the Lower East Side, The Prospect Theatre Company premiered a dazzling new musical – full of wit, intelligence, cleverly written theatre songs and dynamic staging – suggested by F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s semi-autobiographical debut novel This Side of Paradise.

BWW Reviews:  Mills and Reichel's THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence
Jessica Grové and Matt Dengler (Photo: Richard Termine)

The Pursuit of Persephone had its flaws, but they were flaws of ambition overshadowed by the evening’s exceptional display of musical theatre craft and freshness; a story set in the years just before this country’s entry into The Great War that stayed true to its era but showed a contemporary understanding of the unique storytelling qualities of the American musical.

Peter Mills (book, music and lyrics) and Cara Reichel (book and direction) have been responsible for high points in several theatre seasons since then (Iron Curtain, The Rockae) but Persephone, and the promise of what it could be, remains their zenith.

Retooled and renamed The Underclassman, their smart and fizzy charmer has reached Times Square’s Duke on 42nd Street in a limited Off-Broadway run that, sadly, ends the day this review is posted. Slightly less daring, but smoother in delivery, The Underclassman has its minor second act quibbles but is still vastly above all but a handful of musicals that have had major New York productions since, well, The Pursuit of Persephone.

Less of a romance than a musical comedy of manners, the narrative begins with Fitzgerald’s sophomore year at Princeton, where his interest in studies takes a back seat to his interest in writing a musical for the college’s all-male traveling theatre troupe, The Triangle Club.

For the sake of artistic inspiration, he takes up the challenge of meeting Ginevra King, considered by Ivy Leaguers to be one of the country’s four most desirable debutantes. (A title she plays for all it’s worth.) Being a relatively poor artist with no financial prospects beyond what talent and luck can provide, he sees himself as the lowly Hades pursuing the goddess Persephone. (Which winds up being the subject of the musical he writes.)

Because of distance and social standards, Scott and Ginevra have spent, as one character points out, less than 24 total hours with each other before becoming a serious item. Their relationship is sustained through regular correspondence but, as explained in one of the many clever musical scenes, letter writing in their social circle is not exactly an expression of honest emotions, but more of a courtship game with its own rules and strategies.

When we see the two together, they are surely falling in love with something; perhaps the youthful urge to feel something as poetic and romantic as described in the literature they read. But while Ginevra is drawn to the rebellious act of taking up with a poor scribe, she’s also wary of giving up her accustomed lifestyle.

Since real life provides the well-known ending, it’s not giving anything away to reveal that all F. Scott Fitzgerald gains from the affair is what he sought out in the first place, artistic inspiration. Who knew at the time that her artistic inspiration would motivate him to write an era-defining novel?

BWW Reviews:  Mills and Reichel's THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence
Jessica Grové and Company (Photo: Richard Termine)

Though Mills’ score contains hat tips to the styles of upcoming composer/lyricists of the day, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and a muscular rag of Scot Joplin’s ilk, the character-driven words and music stress immediacy over nostalgia. He saves the pastiche for the Gilbert and Sullivan and Offenbach salutes performed by The Triangle Club.

Surprising, but oh-so-right rhymes populate his lyrics, but they contain the kind of cleverness that’s appropriate for the people he’s writing for. So when Ginevra rhymes her own name with “clev’ra,” or when Scott improvises a love song where the melody is dictated by the notes mentioned in the lyric (“Improvising in the key of A flat / Thinking how it’s gonna be / When the two of us are sharing a flat / Residents of NYC.”), it’s the characters who are showing off, not the wordsmith.

The multiple musical gems are enhanced by Reichel and choreographer Christine O’Grady’s smart and imaginative staging, highlighted early in Ginevra’s “To Beat The Band,” where she twirls through a dance card full of potential suitors while singing of her carefree lifestyle and a drag can-can by the Triangle boys that’s danced for skill instead of laughs.

Matt Dengler makes for a gutsy, empathetic Scott with a charmingly impish humor. Jessica Grové, repeating the role she played at the Connelly, mixes sophomoric worldliness with giddy girlishness and sings and dances up a storm as Ginevra.

Another Connelly vet, Piper Goodeve, is terrifically wry as Scott’s high school sweetheart who is now Ginevra’s best friend, especially when matched with the droll Billy Hepfinger as Edmund Wilson, Scott’s pal who later becomes the noted literary critic. Fine work is also done by Marrick Smith, who nicely underplays his affection for Scott as poet John Peale Bishop.

The Underclassman is set in an era when people would go to Broadway to enjoy the musical theatre offerings the best emerging artists had to offer. This is no longer the case, as season after season Off-Broadway’s musicals show superior craft, talent and inventiveness. The Underclassman is among the best in all three categories.