In the musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr sings about “The Room Where It Happens.” The song postulates what occurred out of earshot of history – the secret deal Alexander Hamilton made with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on the Compromise of 1790.
In the new musical The 12, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through October 29, the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkah assumes and hypothesizes the actions of the 12 Apostles of Christ immediately after his death. Dramatizing conjecture in a five-minute song, as in Hamilton, is easier and more sustainable than, like The 12, an 85-minute, intermission-less show. This is the crux of the challenge for the creative team – crafting a viable show within the limitations of the material. They succeed to a degree but, overall, the musical becomes repetitive and is just a satisfactory theatrical experience.
The premise of the musical, as stated above, is straightforward. The group has taken refuge in a deserted a graffiti -laden warehouse crafted by Scenic Designer/Director John Doyle. There, the Apostles through oration and song, begin to question themselves and each other: Why are we here? What shall we do? Why did he choose us? Their plight is amplified by Japhy Weidman’s intermittent, yet prominent lighting and the thunderous sound design by Jay Hilton.
There is a great deal of angst, self-doubt, and shouting as The 12 seek to sort out their sudden, imperiling situation and move forward.
The score by Neil Berg and Robert Schenkkah is a powerful, mostly rock-infused work, but there are also folk, gospel and traditional Broadway melodies. Listening to the songs reminded me of the original concept album for Jesus Christ Superstar. The songs in the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice compositions are also dynamic and cover a number of genres. With Superstar, however, I have never been wholly satisfied with a stage production based on the LP. Likewise, with The 12, I am more impressed with the score as a distinct entity. A few of the songs are more notable. “Rain,” a plaintive tune sung with intensity and conviction by Rema Webb (Mother Mary) and the vigorous ensemble number “Rise Up.”
Tony Award winning Director John Doyle brings a unique perspective to the show. Before turning his energies to the theater, he was planning to go into the priesthood which, according to Berg and Schenkkan, makes him “intimately familiar with miracles, religious and secular.” Still, even his creative talents cannot keep up the dramatic tension necessary for the show to truly succeed. There just seems to be too much busy work for the actors – moving steel drums, climbing ladders, sidling from one side of the stage to the other.
The acting troupe is earnest and committed to their roles. A sense of seriousness pervades their portrayals. While The 12 is more of an ensemble piece, a few cast members stand out. Wesley Taylor is striking as “Doubting” Tom adding a level of unease and conflict as he barrages his fellow followers with questions of faith and intention. Adrienne Walker gives a winning performance as Mary Magdalene. The actress is forceful, direct, and a calming influence on her co-conspirators. Rema Webb brings a serene intensity to the role of Mother Mary. She also possesses a beautiful and haunting voice which, disappointingly, is spotlighted just once during the show.
The 12, a different Goodspeed musical, playing through October 29. Click here for dates, times and ticket information.