Regional Reviews: San Francisco
In the Beginning
The Willows Theatre Company is presenting the second showing of Maury Yeston's In the Beginning. The musical was born six years after the composer won a Tony for his first Broadway musical, Nine. The book was written by Larry Gelbart who wrote A Funny Thing Happen on Way to the Forum. The musical was workshopped as a work in progress at the Manhattan Theatre Club in December 1988, and it was reworked with David W. Hahn taking over the book revisions.
In the Beginning received its World Premier at the Maine State Theatre in August 1988. The Willows was chosen to be the second professional company to present the complete work. It is scheduled to be subsequently presented at the Westchester Broadway Music Theater in New York in early 2001.
I would describe this musical as still a work in progress as it does need polishing and tightening. I also believe it will fare better in regional theatre than as a production on Broadway. In the Beginning is a cute little piece based on the book of Genesis; it is a retelling of the "greatest story never told" and we discover what went on behind the scenes of the first five chapters of the Bible. All of the big names like Adam, Eve, Abraham, Noah are off stage and we meet the previously uncelebrated little people who don't even get a scriptural mention for their important supporting roles.
The musical will undoubtedly be compared to Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden. Mr. Schwartz has had time to hone his musical to a better construction piece. I am sure, in time, Mr. Yeston will be able to do this with this offering. Mr. Yeston has fashioned an old fashion Broadway musical with toe tapping songs, romantic ballets, songs of hope, and vaudeville routines. The production is filled with cheeky humor and abiding warmth and some of the songs are dynamic.
The show starts with a bang as the world is created by a God-like figure in white flowing robes and a booming voice, is suitable to a Shakespeare play. We see the Garden of Eden but apparently Adam and Eve have neighbors and these less familiar figures romp though the book of Genesis. The four couples just happen to live through all the monumental events such as being cast out of the Garden, living in the first town, and discovering shopping for sales. Then the flood arrives and they save themselves by bobbing in barrels while Noah and his family have the Ark. They go through drought, famine, Egypt, slavery, the golden calf and the broken Ten Commandments tablets. All this occurs to the tribe in two acts with intermission - 22 songs and reprises.
There is some good material here with zingers and corny routines. There is a lot of camp based on Broadway musicals that you would groan at. One of the members of the tribe is a "name caller." He names every new thing he sees. When he was naming animals he named "cat." He then says "cats now and forever!" There is a running joke about one of the female members who discovers mint that is pleasing to her breath. Her husband finally invents a white soft candy pill and she says this is really a life saver. I think you get what I mean.
Some of the music is fun. There is an old fashion vaudeville tap dancing line called "Feet" at the beginning of the second act. It is a by-play of the old train-like dancing with the chorus whooping it up. "Feet" has a catchy melody and the cast members give it their all. Four of the female members of the tribe sing a very imitative song about the birth of a baby to Abraham's wife. Its called "When a Baby Gets Born to a Woman of a Hundred and Ten" ... great little melody and fun lyrics.
The score does have some beautiful romantic songs. One song, "Till the End of Time," is lovely and is sung appealingly by two of the main characters of the tribe. They are Avi and Arielle who are played by Jon Marshall and Tanya Shaffer. Mr. Marshall has a steady tender voice while Ms. Shaffer shines with a very pleasing voice. Her song "No Man's as Wonderful" is sung charmingly and it is one of the most memorable moments of the show.
Kevin Blackton is charismatic as God. He sometimes sounds like a great Shakespearean ham. I mean that in the kindest way, since I like ham. His only weak came in the last scene of the first act when he played Egyptian Pharaoh; he mumbled his words while the chorus is singing the foot stomping song "Egypt." He got lost in the chorus.
There were a lot of good people in the large cast. I liked Tara Blau when she played Mrs. Noah; it was so Molly Goldberg. Ron Picket, who seems to show up at every Willow production, had a great number when bobbing around in a barrel during the great flood. It was a comedy song called "You're There Too" which was sung to his wife.
The sets, built by the company under the supervision of Peter Crompton, were extraordinary, mostly cartooned but very effective. The parting of the Red Sea, particularly, was wonderfully done. There was a lot of visual interest to keep things moving.
Richard Elliott has done a bang-up job putting this musical on stage. His work shows in the professionalism of the cast. The musical runs until September 23, 2000 at the Willows. Tickets are $20 to $30.
Master Class is the next attraction in October at The Willows. Next season they will be presenting Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde along with Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, Lionel Bart's Oliver and Charles Small's The Wiz, Jackie, an American Life by Gip Hoppe and Ketti Frings Look Homeward Angel.
Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area.