By James V. Ruocco
The graffiti-drenched warehouse set of "The 12" bears a striking resemblance to that of Jonathan Larson's 1996 Broadway musical "Rent" as does some of its characters, its props, its set pieces, its costumes, its music, its dialogue, its lighting its dramatized cry for help.
Yet Mimi, Roger, Mark, Angel and Maureen never once slide into view.
Instead, "The 12" takes it cue from the New Testament story of Jesus Christ, picking up the action immediately following his death in Golgotha, a skull-shaped hill in biblical Jerusalem.
There, his frightened disciples gather together to sort out their lives (Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, are also part of the story) trying to figure out how to move forward, what to do next and how to deal with the sudden loss of their beloved teacher while wrestling with mounting fear, confusion and jealousy coupled with thoughts of death, destruction, persecution and imprisonment.
Not your typical Goodspeed Musicals presentation, "The 12" basks in its own individual limelight drawing its audience into a valid, religious paradox using elements, theories, ideas and reasoning to support its ongoing narrative, context and biblical perspective.
It looks incredible.
Its gloriously musical.
Its staged and executed with a lot of buzz.
Its inventive and challenging with universal relevance.
Its electric-charged rock score suggests "Rent" meets "Jesus Christ Superstar."
It injects a mature feeling into its modernized composition.
It effectively punctuates crucial moments of the story.
It doesn't, however, reveal much about some of its characters, a minor flaw that rarely interrupts or lessens the impact of its storytelling.
Written by Robert Schenkkan (book and lyrics) and Neil Berg (music and lyrics), "The 12" unfolds through 23 musical numbers. They are (in order of performance): "Walk Away," "Sons of Thunder," "Anyone But Me," "Do You Remember?" "Pick Up the Knife," "Three Times," "What Kind of Friends," "Magdalene," "I Did," "Give Up," "Rain," "Sweet Dream," "Empty," What If," "The Path," "I Am Not Alone," "Your Own Way," "Lazarus," "Ordinary," "Why?" "Rise Up," "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" and "Our Love."
A rock opera infused with clever, healthy and infectious doses of pop, folk, rock, gospel and traditional Broadway melody fare, the musical score for "The 12" provides its audience with a tantalizing, edgy mix of focused, intensely triggered sound and volume that shines with accompanied concern, drama, detail and immediacy.
Musical director Adam Souza and his orchestral team play the score with clarity, warmth and flourish, thus creating a hypnotic, unfolding drama full of notable solos, ensemble turns and majestic, choral symphonies that drive the work forward, blaze with fortissimo unison, teem with meteoric rise and conclude with revered response, rumble and great satisfaction.
Highlights include "Magdalene," "Walk Away," "Rain," "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," "Rise Up" and "Our Love."
Staging "The 12," director John Doyle (he also designed the musical's stunning atmospheric set) receives able assist from lighting designer Japhy Weidman, sound designer Jay Hilton and costume designer Ann Hould-Ward. Their creative, united input fuels the production with a look, frame and focal point that is used to great effect throughout the ongoing narrative.
As "The 12" evolves, Doyle confidently delivers a precise, electrically charged work that raises questions about faith, loyalty and the nature of Christ's teachings, offset by the motives of his survivors and their different choices and perspectives following the aftermath of his crucifixion. The actual staging space is used to great advantage - no two scenes are alike - with bang on chaos, recourse, increase, civility and sustained energy and entrapment.
The cast - Wonza Johnson, Adrienne Walker, Etai Benson, F. Michael Haynie, Kelvin Moon Loh, Rob Morrison, Kyle Scatliffe, Rema Webb, Wesley Taylor, Mel Johnson, Jr., Gregory Treco, Brandon J. Elis, Akron Lanier Watson - bring plenty of depth, intrigue and vigor to the proceedings, matched by flawless, outstanding, ravishing vocals that kick "The 12" into rock opera orbit. Their contrasting styles - complex, emotional, arresting - pave the way for an explosion of vocal gymnastics that not only complement the material and its language but nearly blow the roof off the Goodspeed Opera House.
A bold, hypnotic musical rich in soulfulness, volatility and restless anticipation, "The 12" is an amazing, powerful experience that holds status in the musical theatre universe, savoring its power, its humanity, its reflection and its timelessness.
It stirs, It pops. It ignites. It moves. It wields.
It is frenzied. It is arresting. It endures.
At Goodspeed, it is outfitted with a dream team - cast, design, directorial, orchestral - that pull together for a 90-minute musical event kitted out with a moving story, a stunning atmospheric backdrop and a musical score draped in rock opera push and pull cemented with plenty of angst, swapper, excitement and superstar turns.
Photos of "The 12" courtesy of Diane Sobolewski