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My review of the new Off Broadway musical JOAN OF ARC: INTO THE FIRE by David Byrne at the Public
Last Edit: jesse21 11:00 am EDT 03/15/17
Posted by: jesse21 10:55 am EDT 03/15/17

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At the Public Theater’s Newman stage, there’s a show curtain for its latest musical, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, that quotes Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed this is the only thing that ever has.”

This being the Public, you think maybe this show will offer contemporary relevance, like to the recent Women’s March last January, for instance. Ha. Think again.

The key here is the “warning” to patrons that reads “This show contains the use of fog, haze, open flame, strobe effects, and rock concert level noise.” All that -- plus lighting designer Justin Townsend’s annoying bank of lights aimed at the audience -- can’t mask a lousy show, no matter how hard all this froufrou tries.

Talking Heads’ David Byrne not only wrote the book, music and lyrics. He also is responsible for the orchestrations and arrangements.

The surprise is that this is a dull, grim and conventionally straightforward narrative of the Joan of Arc story with songs so banal that they wash over you. The Mohawk hairdo-ed star in black leather is the consistently sullen Jo Lampert, the singer (a touring member of tUnE-yArDs), actress and DJ. I had trouble believing her Joan could motivate the French troops since her performance failed to get me to become even interested in paying attention to this slow-moving, 95-minute tuner that has its official Off Broadway opening tonight.

Mr. Byrne had a big success at the Public four years ago with the innovative Here Lies Love. That one owed a lot to director Alex Timbers’s staging where the audience (never seated) moved (and even danced) with the actors to different parts of the black box in which it was staged. There’s no such inspiration by Mr. Timbers this time. The black-on-black scenic design by Christopher Barreca offers ten narrow-treaded steps as a major element. The ensemble of ten men move on these steps in choreography by the usually inventive Steven Hoggett. Here, the efforts by both the Messrs. Timbers and Hoggett look like a perfunctory demonstration of the style of work they do rather than a fresh creative endeavor.

Oh, yeah, there is another woman in the cast besides Ms. Lampert. The very talented Mare Winningham is entirely wasted in a brief appearance as Joan’s mother Isabelle.

This Joan of Arc made me long for a previous attempt to tell the story in a musical. That was 1975’s fanciful Goodtime Charlie which had a short Broadway run of just 104 performances at the Palace Theatre. It presented a clever point of view from the standpoint of the Dauphin (later Charles VII) rather than Joan. High points were Joel Grey, Ann Reinking and some decent songs. It wasn’t very good, but, next to the current Joan musical, it now seems like a masterpiece.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

- Jesse






SIDEBAR:

  • Photos: production stills.


  • Video: a short excerpt from the production (Time 1:10).


  • Article: A Protest Musical for the Trump Era by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, march 20, 2017 issue.







  • JOAN OF ARC: INTO THE FIRE opens Wednesday, March 15, 2017, at the Public Theater (Newman auditorium), 425 Lafayette Street, New York City. Running time: 95 minutes. No intermission. Limited engagement. Tickets on sale through April 30, 2017. Link to website.





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