The Ark at Village Theatre
Though it's been in development and gone through numerous productions since 1986, The Ark, a pop rock version of the biblical saga of Noah's Ark is still a waterlogged excuse for a musical. Despite input from composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (whose own Children Of Eden covered the same subject more adroitly in its second act), the show is both patronizingly preachy and desperately unfunny as it tries to add anachronistic modern jokes and references for the characters and their story.
Director/choreographer Steve Tomkins, a gamely talented cast, and an able design team have labored fairly successfully at creating the outer trappings of a genuine musical theatre crowd-pleaser. But the hopeless book and lyrics by Kevin Kelly and Michael McLean, and McLean's instantly forgettable and generic music, make it tough going. It's worth noting that at least two songs, "It Takes Two" and "Hold On," have titles and sentiments that remind us of better numbers from far superior shows (Into The Woods and The Secret Garden respectively).
Hugh Hastings as Noah does the best he can with the earnest and sanctimonious lines he has to deliver, yet the actor only genuinely seems to be having a good time with Bobbi Kotula as his loyal wife Eliza in that "It Takes Two" duet. Kotula, a Seattle leading lady who has rarely been given a leading role worthy of her huge talents, delivers more heart and humor than the role deserves and seems to be waiting for a big solo number that the score never provides for her. Tracy Coe is deliciously vain and self-serving as daughter-in-law Sariah and rousingly steals the show with her brassy voice and presence as she leads the other daughters-in-law through an inane aerobics workout number entitled "You Can't Be a Beauty Queen Forever."
Taryn Darr is engaging and exuberant as the married-to-a-mama's-boy bride Martha and puts across the show's most pleasant number, "I've Got A Man Who Loves Me" (complete with Tomkins' own winking dream ballet interlude), with charm and assurance. Lisa Estridge-Gray as outsider daughter-in-law Egyptus gives her considerable all to several sound-alike big gospel style numbers, though Scott McLean is rather wooden and vocally wobbly as her husband and Noah's prodigal son Ham. Brandon O'Neil and Brandon Kuwada as sons number two (Japheth) and three (Shem) do an adequate job with their underdeveloped roles.
Scenic designer Carey Wong's shipboard setting is well realized and spacious, while still establishing the requisite air of claustrophobia. Alex Berry's lighting design is exceptional, and Jeanette deJong's eclectic assortment of costumes is generally on target. Musical director R.J. Tancioco lets his small but accomplished band overpower the actors and muddle their lyrics in group numbers. Also, the use of rock concert-style mikes for the vocalists is to say the least annoying.
In his program notes, author McClean credits the Village Theatre team for helping the writers makes the show the best that it can be. Sadly, to borrow a pop lyric allusion, I guess their best wasn't good enough.
The Ark plays at The Village Theatre, 303 Front Street N in Issaquah, WA through April 20, and at Everett Performing Arts Center, Everett, WA , April 25-May 11. For further information visit the Village Theatre web-site at www.villagetheatre.org.