Revelate!: Oh, Hell!

Local Arts Reviews

Revelate!: Oh, Hell!

Universalist Unitarian Church,

through January 30

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

By the time this Millennial Musical comes to its rather messy end, we've been to Hell and back, truly. Not that the simple pitch isn't rife with possibilities: The Devil, in order to bring on the Apocalypse, produces an all-new, revised version of the Book of Revelation (where he wins, of course). He wages his earthly attack in a condemned church in New York City and plans to use Broadway's dearest form, the musical, as his vehicle to commence a nuclear Armageddon. In the Devil's way are, well, God, of course, absent and working through His chosen servant, in this case a lowly and doubting priest named James. God, whom we know as Uncle Louie -- presumably because this is a good Broadway patriarch's name -- trusts that James will recall his faith and thwart the fiendish, high-kicking horde.

The promise of the set-up never reaps any real rewards, however. There are a bible's worth of problems in the script, structure, and staging that even the most devout audience cannot overlook. For example, we don't actually meet the hero until the final scene of the first act, by which time we've pretty much forgotten about him. James Singleton, who plays the dour Reverend James, caretaker to the dismal church he unwittingly signs away to the Devil, can sing all his notes, but his character is rather one-note, even when the world's first seductress, Eve (in disguise), puts the moves on him. Turns out James is Adam reincarnated, which explains his sense that he and Eve have met before. This is the kind of insta-revelation that permeates Revelate! Instant exposition fills holes in the character development; instant theatrical gimmicks (a game show, pulling members of the audience onstage for a company waltz) cover cracks in the plot.

Until we meet the disaffected James, the play sidetracks to a view of a very bland heaven, wherein live Ginger (a famous dancer) and her pianist, Donny. All in white, of course, the couple appear to be the play's central characters. Almost immediately, we learn of Donny's eternal love for Ginger (she never knew: insta-revelation!) in his melodic song, "You're Beautiful." Matt Wood, who plays Donny, has a fine, almost pop vocal delivery, and Tedra Hutchins plays the heavenly diva well, dancing adequately when called upon. After this song, however, these two characters play almost no part in the rest of the act and have little effect on what follows in Act Two. Instead, it's down to Hell, where we discover the Devil, played with mischief and gusto by Angie Ray. The Devil (who strives to be a Broadway producer -- how sinisterly appropriate) runs the show in the nether kingdom. His star attraction is Eve, sunk to a leading role in a never-ending, scantily clad chorus act, surrounded by similarly scantily clad lost souls. Martamaria (Chi Chi) McGonagle's Eve is a dark, young, wide-eyed (and at times over-earnest) pretty girl, with a fair singing voice.

Eve is the character upon whom the action tilts, but poor writing makes her seduction of Reverend James at the end of Act One feel like it was cut and pasted right out of the daytime soaps, and her weak act of resistance at the play's torturously contrived end rings rather hollow. During that tumultuous climax, the embattled Reverend James, trying to undo the signing away of his soul and church to the Devil, actually runs out of the theatre and shoots the Devil's musical director! With apparent impunity! What must Uncle Louie think? The plot unravels faster than a tap-dancing dervish, and by the end it's not only the onstage nuclear warhead that hangs by a thread.

There are moments in this brand-new musical when a melody glimmers or a line zings. But the hard-working young cast pushes either too hard or not hard enough; there is little sense of degree here. Jean Grace has a comic's timing. Triston Brewer can dance and deliver those zingers. Rosaria Tateosian taps fiendishly. Dancer Kyon Holman practically flies through the heavens. Each cast member can sing or dance or act a bit, but even at their best, they're betrayed by the unstable script.

Charles Moster is director, playwright, co-composer, lyricist, and co-producer of Revelate!, sort of the production's Uncle Louie, with a similar absenteeism when it comes to polishing off his creation. But he has found time to be the play's deus ex machina, appearing as himself to jolt the play back to its final number, when, well, all hell has broken loose, theatrically speaking. This might be a cute, personable choice, but it does little to restore one's faith in his hellish musical.

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