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A CurtainUp Review
The Ark

Adrian Zmed  & Annie Golden
Adrian Zmed & Annie Golden
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The Ark retells the familiar Biblical story of Noah and the flood and, although it has some effective songs and an appealing cast, falls far short of having anything to say that has not been better said many times before. The entire first act lacks any dramatic tension whatsoever, and Noah, the central character, never becomes a compelling presence. Two of his three sons blur into nothingness. The third, Ham, while he finally emerges as the pieceís most dramatic figure, is left in the background for too long for even his story to register properly. The wives of the four are drawn even more thinly, most absurdly in Sariah, the shallow beauty queen of the three sisters-in-law.

Falling into the sub-genre of folksy and/or charming Bible-derived musicals, The Ark does not overcome memories of the deserving past successes of this type, notably Godspell and the lesser-known Cotton Patch Gospel. Audiences today are more familiar with the current and considerably more hip Altar Boyz, which includes a bit of irony in its creative process. And, thirty-five years ago this month, no less than Richard Rodgers presented his own Noah musical, drawing upon the substantial dramatic source of Clifford Odetsí already successful play The Flowering Peach. By most reports as well as evidence from the cast recording of Two by Two, that show was more than competently rendered into musical form by Rodgers and his collaborators Martin Charnin and Peter Stone. While that production did have the misfortune of a star who used a leg injury as an excuse for jettisoning the script and turning the show into a vaudeville evening with Danny Kaye, it certainly had characters to care about and both music and words to savor.

Vaudeville has landed more intentionally on this version of stirt, although Noah and wife Elizaís first act duet in the mode, "It Takes Two," falls flat. Noah himself is presented as a borscht belt style comic whose chief shtick is bumbling and obvious jokes. Typical is his (presumably scripted) comment to a fairly quiet audience that inferentially constitutes the animal contingent of the vessel, "The hyenas must be sleeping." Unfortunately, the competent and usually more effectively used Adrian Zmed here comes across more as a genial but inept Tony Danza type than a man on a mission from God, and goodness knows, there is little sense of his being challenged as a super-senior facing his 600th birthday. So much more strength could have been given to his character on these counts alone. As his devoted but perplexed wife, Annie Golden, another talented veteran, is utterly believable but similarly is underserved by the material.

The Ark does include several strong numbers including Hamís solo "Whenever He Needs a Miracle"; an amusing trio for the brothers called "Oh Yeah;" and "Hold On," the best moment between Noah and Eliza. These songs, as well as the silly but also amusing "Dinner," sung by the entire company of eight, all generate both musical and dramatic excitement. Others, especially the bland opening, seem as predictable as second or third-tier theme park filler material and are sometimes tiresomely repeated ad infinitum, notably the exasperating "You Must Believe in Miracles." Worse yet, the entire score has been capsized by a horrible sound system that remained painfully shrill on the high notes even after I resorted to necessary earplugs. In fairness to the score, at intermission I was speaking with two musicians from Utah, who had followed the show from its origins there, and their reaction was that the earlier production sounded considerably better both on stage and in its recording (Shadow Mountain, 1998).

Of the designers, Beowulf Boritt in particular has helped the show with a versatile and impressive wooden set that aptly suggests the vastness and variety of the eponymous ark, although visual attempts to suggest rain are totally wasted. The costumes and lighting designs are fine, too; the key failing here is in the writing, which only rarely rises above the mediocre.

The Ark
Book and lyrics by Michael McLean and Kevin Kelly
Music by Michael McLean
Director and choreographer: Ray Roderick
Musical direction by Joseph Baker
Cast: Adrian Zmed (Noah), Annie Golden (Eliza), D.B. Bonds (Ham), Janeece Aisha Freeman (Egyptus), Rob Sutton (Japheth), Marie-France Arcilla (Martha), Jacquelyn Piro (Sariah), and Justin Brill (Shem).
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Lisa L. Zinni
Lighting Design: Eric T. Haugen
Sound Design: Ryan Powers
Running time: 2 hours including an intermission.
37 Arts, 450 West 37th Street.
Schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7 8 PM, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM.
From 10/14/05; opening 11/14/05
Viewed by Brad Bradley at the November 13th preview performance
To an early grave on 11/20 after just 36 previews and 8 regular performances.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • What a Sight/ Elira,Sariah,Japheth, Shem. Martha
  • Ship Without an Ocean/ Noah, Eliza. Sariah, Japheth, Shem, Martha
  • More Than I Asked For/ Ham, Egyptus
  • Noah's Praye/r Noah, Eliza. Egyptus, Sariah. Japheth, Shem, Martha
  • Whenever He Needs a Miracle / Ham
  • It Takes Two/ Noah, Eliza
  • Lift Me Up/ Full Company
  • Rain Song #1 / Eliza
  • You Cannot Be a Beauty Queen Forever/ Sariah
  • Rain Song #2/ Egyptus
  • Rain Song #3 / Sariah
  • I Got a Man Who Loves Me/ Martha
  • I Got a Man Who Loves Me (reprise) / Martha. Sariah
  • Oh Yeah / Japheth, Shem, Ham
  • Rain Song #4/ Full Company
  • Song of Praise/ Full Company
  • Why Can't We? / Egyptus and Company
Act Two
  • Couple of Questions/ Full Company
  • Couple of Questions (reprise #1)/ Egyptus
  • In a Perfect World / Egyptus. Noah, Ham
  • Eliza's Breakdown-Hold On / Eliza, Noah
  • Dinner Ham, Eliza, Sariah, Martha, Shem, Egyptus, Japheth
  • You Must Believe in Miracles #1/ Egvptus
  • You Must Believe in Miracles #2 / Egyptus, Sherri, Martha
  • You Must Believe in Miracles #3 / Egyptus, Japheth, Sariah
  • You Must Believe in Miracles #4 / Egyptus and Company
  • So Much More Than I Asked For (reprise] / Ham, Egyptus
  • Lift Me Up / Hold On (reprise) / Noah, Ham and Company
  • I Thought I Was Alone / Ham
  • Lift Me Up (reprise) / Full Company
  • Song of Praise (reprise) / Full Company
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© 2005  Elyse Sommer.