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An Act of God
By Elyse Sommer
A New God Shares His Wit and Wisdom With Broadway Audiences
It's still basically an extended standup solo dressed up as a full-fledged play with spectacular stagecraft and not one but two straight men in this case as angels. But with Jim Parsons, who originated the role, probably tied up filming the latest episodes of The Big Bang Theory, Sean Hayes, another actor who became world famous as the star of a TV series (Will & Grace), is holding court on the heavenly throne— actually, a white sofa.
Hayes is more than prepared for the role having already played the Almighty in Los Angeles and like Parsons he's been on Broadway before in 2010 revival of Promises, Promises .
No matter who's cast as God, Javerbaum's riff on civilization's most famous rule book is funny and clever, but hardly so much so that I was overjoyed at the prospect at seeing it again. Still, Hayes and Parsons are very different and the recasting does release this light but entertaining show from being strictly owned by a single actor. In fact one of the most enjoyable aspects of seeing it again in such a short time was to see what each of these actors brought to their performance
Parsons allowed his God to only occasionally lapse into Old Testament rants, which made for an effective cool-hot-cool performance. Hayes also knows how to charm the audience. Yet he's more fractious divine, shades of Jack McFarland from Will & Grace. What's more, his God is more physical and shtickier, though, to be fair, he doesn't overdo this.
The script has been refreshed. so we have the early joke about the current theater, a question supposedly asked by an audience member about why we're here is answered with "Because we can't get tickets to Hamilton." Author Javerbaum even worked in a joke about the current presidential campaign ("I have enjoyed dropping into the brains of certain right wing politicians and telling them to run for President. But that's not by way of blessing you. It's by way of amusing Me. . . .I mean, the look on Ted Cruz's face when I told him he was the anointed one destined to usher American into a new golden age of Christendom. . .. that's comedy gold").
None of these script updates result in any really major changes. Though the performance I attended actually ran five minutes shorter than the 90 minutes listed, it would have benefited from being even shorter, perhaps ditching that unfunny joke about Cabaret and the holocaust..
Since everything I said in my original review applies even though the cast is different, I'm reposting it herewith. And so, to continue, just move on to our original comments below . . .
The 2015 review with Jim Parsons as God
According to this mostly genial, and at times curmudgeonly, heavenly deity, another neighborhood hit about religion, The Book of Mormon, also gets his attention. According to God Parsons The Book of Job is a lot funnier. And with Scott Pask, The Book of Mormon's award winning designer on board, Parsons' heavenly surroundings are indeed Broadway worthy, especially as spectacularly lit by Hugh Vanstone.
The pivotal idea of Javerbaum's riff is that God has grown as weary of the Ten Commandments as "Don McLean has grown weary of American Pie." And so his 90 minutes at Studio 54 are structured around an update of that iconic rule book for all human behavior. The new Ten Commandments end the uncertainty as to what God desires from humanity and will this time be given without an intermediary to the Jewish people.
To aid Parsons' God in this endeavor are two angels with giant wings, Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel's (Tim Kazurinsky) task is to introduce each commandment by reading an appropriate excerpt from the Bible. Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald) is charged with wandering through the audience to solicit questions for God to address. This audience participation business isn't as funny as it aims to be, and illustrates how star quality actors like Fitzgerald are often under-utilized.
While the emphasis throughout is on wringing maximum laughs from God's observations on various biblical subjects, there does come a point were things get a bit darker and more meaningful. A welcome touch since it further showcases Parsons' range as an actor, though it would benefit from a bit of trimming.
Between Parsons and director Joe Mantello, one of the theater's busiest and best directors who returned to his acting roots in 2011 to perform with Parsons in The Normal Heart, An Act of God is enjoyable and largely amusing light entertainment. Whether it has you laugh nonstop, or sporadically like yours truly, you'll get a big bang out of the ending. It's a knockout that had me wondering if Parsons will end up in a musical that's going to rival both The Book of Job and The Book of Mormon.
Note: Except for the change in the cast and the venue, the designers were exactly the same listed for the current production It played at tStudio 54 from 5/15/15 to 8/13/15 and I reviewed it at a 6/03/15 press performance.
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An Act Of God by David Javerbaum
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Jim Parsons (God), David Josefsberg (Michael) and James Gleason (Gabriel)
Scenic design by Scott Pask
Costume design by David Zinn
Lighting design by Hugh Vanstone
Sound design by Fitz Patton
Music by Adam Schlesinger
Projection design by Peter Nigrini
Illusion Consultant Paul Kieve
Special effects by Gregory Meeh
Stage manager: Barclay Stiff
Running Time: 90 minutes
From 5/28/16; opening 6/06/16; closing 9/04/16
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 6/04 press preview
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