Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly’s musical “The Ark,” first performed last year, has undergone some revisions and has come out the better for it, delivering an uplifting message with characters that are likable, if not especially well-drawn.
The first act establishes the story: Noah’s built an ark, everyone gets on it, and it starts raining. Just as everyone’s about to go stir crazy, the rain stops and they all rejoice — only to realize they still can’t leave, because there’s no dry land.
With nothing to do in Act Two but wait for the water to evaporate, we finally get to know the characters. Noah (Art Allen) is an optimistic prophet, bedecked in a King Lear beard and robe and always seeing miracles. (He also occasionally lapses into an amusing “prophet” mode and refers to futuristic things like cyberspace, Big Macs and, of course, “The Love Boat.”)
His wife, Eliza (Lynne Carr), is supportive but hates animals. Japheth (Daniel Law) caters to the every whim of his vain wife Sariah (Kelly K. Shepardson). Shem (Josh Meurer) is creative and sweet; his wife, Martha (Lori Lehman Rucker) lacks self-confidence and thinks everyone on board is better than she.
Finally, there’s the rebellious Ham (David Tinney, also the show’s director) and his wife Egyptus (Lita Little Giddins), who is black (leading to an amusing reaction from Eliza: “Noah, look who’s coming to dinner”). Ham is at odds with Noah because he doesn’t believe in his father’s calling; he comes to be at odds with Egyptus, too, when she becomes part of the family — i.e., spiritual.
Most of the second act consists of vignettes from the various relationships, with each character eventually overcoming whatever is making him or her unhappy. The problem is that all the characters are drawn with very broad strokes, even stereotypes: Does Ham HAVE to wear earrings to help establish that he’s “rebellious”? And does Egyptus HAVE to sing gospel music, just because she’s black?
The platitudinal songs that go along with the characters’ dilemmas (“One Step Closer to Liking Myself,” “Change of Tune,” etc.) wind up sounding a little hollow without real characters behind them. The feelings, situations and sentiments are very real and relatable — that is McLean’s song-writing genius, really — but the characters are not.
The lone exception there is Ham, whose crisis ultimately is the most serious and receives the most attention. When he finally gains his testimony (this is not particularly a “Mormon” show, but there are a few LDS-specific themes) and reconciles with Noah, it is truly touching.
One of the problems with the show last year was that it was way too long. To alleviate that, most of the scenes with the animals (played by the same cast members, as counterparts) have been ditched or changed. There is a very funny Letterman-esque variety show that the animals put on late at night, and it is they who convince Ham that if God can forgive him, he can forgive himself, too.
This means that if you buy the soundtrack CD, you’ll get a few extra songs and read in the liner notes some interesting parallel plotting that originally went with the animals. One excised song, however, called “It Takes Two,” was between Japheth and Sariah. Without it in the new show, their relationship winds up curiously under-explained.
Another change in plotting: In the CD version, Martha is the one who can’t forgive herself; now she simply lacks self-confidence, for whatever reason, and Ham, more fittingly, is the unworthy one.
This is a good show. Some more tinkering would be good. The animals need to either serve a function or not; as it is now, they’re sort of in between, and it’s obvious they USED to be a big part of the show and have been cut back.
The show is ambitious, though, and sweet, with earnest performances throughout the cast. Artistically, it has its flaws. But emotionally, yeah, it packs a punch.
This show, alas, featured two things that annoy me in theater. One, there was no assigned seating; it was all general. You show up and try to find a seat somewhere. How hard is it to print seat numbers on tickets? I mean, really.
And two, the audience was treated like animals on the ark. Being called an animal didn't bother me (I've been called, and have actually been, worse); it was that this meant we sometimes had to participate with the show, being forced to applaud some things and stand up and make noise for other things. Don't make your audience do stuff. It doesn't make them like the show any more. Just let them sit and enjoy it.