After two runs as a work-in-progress and numerous revisions in between, Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly’s “The Ark” has finally arrived. Artists are rarely 100 percent satisfied with their work, but I recommend McLean and Kelly step back and let this one go. It’s finished, and it’s good.
It is a pop musical retelling of Noah’s Ark, taking place entirely on the boat itself. This staging is in Thanksgiving Point’s facility known as The Barn, and it’s hard to think of a better venue. (A cruise ship, maybe. Or an actual ark.) The actors use all of the space, including amidst the audience, to tell the story. The gimmick is that we are the animals on the ark, and as unflattering as that may be, the effect is that we feel intimately involved with Noah’s family and its various crises. We’re not merely observers; we’re quiet, well-mannered participants.
Noah (Art Allen) is the humble, altogether human prophet, supported by his patient wife Eliza (Elizabeth Hansen). Noah forgets how many days the Lord told him it would rain, because that’s a detail. “I’m more of a ‘big-picture’ person,” he says.
Their son Shem (Kevin Odekirk) is newly married to Martha (Marilee Spencer), who feels she cannot compare in Shem’s mind to his own mother. Another son, Japheth (Scott McLean), is inventive and hard-working; his wife, Sariah (Stephanie Breinholt), is comically materialistic. (Her big number, marred by a quiet Betty Boop voice that doesn’t register in the huge Barn, is an amusing reminder to the animals that their sole purpose is to sacrifice their skins and feathers to make her look beautiful.)
And then there’s Ham (David Tinney, also the director), the bad son who doesn’t believe in his father’s prophetic calling. He has married outside the faith, to a black woman named Egyptus (Lisa Estridge-Gray), leading Eliza to utter what is still the show’s funniest line: “Noah, guess who’s coming to dinner?”
Cooped up on a boat, the family’s issues with each other come to a head, mostly in song (far more palatable than the screaming that erupts at my house).
Many things about the show have changed. Songs are gone, new ones are added, and the whole thing’s shorter. In previous incarnations, the human characters had animal counterparts whose stories were also told; that element is now gone completely.
But the greatest change is that it has been simplified. Before, it tried to tell too many stories — someone can’t forgive himself, someone has low self-esteem, and so on. Now it is pared down primarily to Ham’s inner turmoil, but with enough attention paid to other characters’ issues to give it all some weight.
Bronx-born Lisa Estridge-Gray is the picture of sass as Egyptus; her “Why Can’t We” number at the first act curtain blows the roof off the place. It is unfair to single her out, though, because all the performers sing and act well.
This is a show of great humanity and beauty. It is sometimes uproariously funny, and other times uncommonly moving. See it now, before they change it again.
Should you go? By all means necessary.