Review Roundup: David Byrne's JOAN OF ARC: INTO THE FIRE Opens at the Public Theater

By: Mar. 15, 2017
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The Public Theater's world premiere of Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, with book, music, and lyrics by David Byrne, choreography by Steven Hoggett, and directed by Alex Timbers, officially opens tonight and BroadwayWorld has all the reviews as they roll in!

Once upon a time, there was a girl who talked to God. She built a nation, and they burned her for it. Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe winner David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads and creator of The Public's hit Here Lies Love, explores the electrifying, meteoric rise of Joan of Arc through the lens of a one-of-a-kind rock musical concert. Directed by Golden Globe winner Alex Timbers, Joan of Arc: Into the Fire is a thrilling and provocative new show about challenging the powerful and believing in the impossible.

The complete cast features Terence Archie (Warwick); James Brown III (Priest, Judge); Jonathan Burke (Priest, Judge); Rodrick Covington (Priest, Judge); Sean Allan Krill (Bishop Cauchon); Jo Lampert (Joan); Mike McGowan (La Tremouille); Dimitri Joseph Moïse (Swing); Mary Kate Morrissey (Standby for Joan, Isabelle); Adam Perry (Priest, Judge); John Schiappa (Priest, Judge); Kyle Selig (Dauphin, King Charles); Michael James Shaw (Baudricourt); and Mare Winningham (Isabelle).

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: But as the focus of dynamic narratives, saints tend to be as tedious as most monomaniacs. They're always so sure of their purpose and their destiny, so immune to argument and temptation. Where's the suspense, the conflict, the drama in such single-mindedness? That's a question that is definitely not answered in "Joan of Arc: Into the Fire," which opened in a blaze of monotony at the Public Theater on Wednesday night. But it's probably another query that will loom largest in your mind as you watch this 90-minute rock oratorio: How did the immense talents behind "Here Lies Love" come up with something so inert?

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: David Byrne's boisterous segue from Imelda Marcos (Here Lies Love) to Saint Joan (Joan of Arc: Into the Fire) is the ultimate example of crab-walking from the ridiculous to the sublime. It's also true that in Here Lies Love, his shape-shifting disco dance-a-thon about the imperious Philippine First Lady (co-authored with Fatboy Slim), aimed higher than a comic-book rehash of a life lived in gossip columns might have. It resonated in a timely parable of power, greed and accumulation. Conversely, Into the Fire shoots lightning bolts through the sacred if familiar story of the 15th-century farm girl from Lorraine who listened to the voices in her head, led an army to reclaim France for the French and was burned alive for her efforts.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Who would have guessed that music savant and Talking Heads lead David Byrne, one of the most influential figures to ride the post-punk, avant-funk wave, secretly aspired to Andrew Lloyd Webber lite? Sadly, that's the impression left by Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, a misguided alt-rock musical that reduces the crusade, persecution and death of the 15th-century French heroine to a simplistic "Martyrdom for Dummies" with a repetitious beat. Frequently recalling Jesus Christ Superstar, though generally falling short of that mark, the show boasts fabulous production values and a vocally talented lead with cool stage presence in Jo Lampert. But divine inspiration is lacking.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Four years ago, rock icon David Byrne and director Alex Timbers collaborated on "Here Lies Love," a smashing, immersive disco extravaganza about the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, of all unlikely subjects, set in an open space at The Public Theater as if in a Manila dance club. One thing can be definitively concluded from "Joan of Arc: Into the Fire," Byrne's second musical and second collaboration with Timbers. They can never be accused here of having repeated themselves. Alas, we also cannot congratulate them for successfully reinventing themselves. "Joan of Arc" is almost shockingly deadly. Unlike "Here Lies Love," which was co-created by Fatboy Slim, this one has been written and composed by Byrne alone. And unlike the brilliant iconoclast's previous work with Talking Heads or "The Catherine Wheel," which Twyla Tharp later choreographed into a full-length Broadway piece in 1981, this is a 90-minute hair shirt of a project with no discernible point of view.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Theatergoers shouldn't martyr themselves for a ticket to Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, at the Public Theater. Though written by the Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and directed by Alex Timbers, who collaborated on the marvelous 2013 musical Here Lies Love, this rock concert retelling of the brief life and charred death of the virgin warrior sounds oddly indistinct. The broad outlines of Joan's story are familiar. A French peasant born during the hundred years war, she received messages from angels, who encouraged her to liberate France. Presenting herself to a nearby garrison, she convinced its soldiers to bring her to court and to introduce her to the dauphin. She helped to liberate a swath of French towns before being captured, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake. All of these events are comprehensibly presented during the sung-through musical, but there's an absence of psychological acuity and Joan (Jo Lampert) never entirely emerges as a definite human character.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: It's all impressively brisk (at an intermissionless 95 minutes) and smartly executed, though it's also never quite clear in the end why this version of Joan is especially crucial, after literally hundreds of interpretations on stage and screen. It's telling, maybe, that the moments in Fire that shine brightest aren't the words put in her mouth by this particular production but the ones that the show takes care to specify came from the real court transcripts of her trial: They're a bracing reminder of why she remains such an endless and often elusive subject of fascination, more than half a millennium on. B+

Katie Baker, The Daily Beast: Everything about The Public's new production, intentional or not, seems like a pointed message to Trump, from the play's diverse cast to its gender-blurring main character who helps save her nation from the clutches of a brutish foe. Indeed, the song lyrics read like some sort of post-election liberal mantra about #resisting when all seems lost: "Never give up. Never give in"; "This, then is the reason/The reason we must fight"; and the oft-repeated refrain, "Have faith. Be strong/Have faith. Be strong."

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: In the end, what does it take to refocus "Joan of Arc"? An appearance by the only other woman in the cast, Mare Winningham, as Joan's mother, who arrives in the final moments, 24 years after Joan's death, delivering a touching plea for mercy for her child. Why do we care about France or England, nations whose versions of "right" and "wrong" were so relative in this epoch? Why do we care that Joan claims to be doing God's work? Maybe these questions can be answered as "Joan of Arc" evolves, but for now, we just don't have enough invested in her well-being to care.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: It's clear that David Byrne and Bill Maher ("Religulous") disagree when it comes to God. On the subject of Christianity's top butch female warrior, Byrne turns out to be a true believer. At least that's the impression given by his new musical, "Joan of Arc: Into the Fire," which opened Wednesday at the Public Theater.Writing the book, music, and lyrics, Byrne frames this familiar tale with two medical inspections of Joan's hymen, to see if it's intact. Back in the 15th century, only virgins could hear the voices of angels. If Joan (Jo Lampert) isn't a virgin, then she's most definitely a liar about all those heavenly conversations she's been having. Byrne, surprisingly, concentrates on questions of whether or not Joan is a virgin, as opposed to whether or not she's nuts.

Jesse Green, Vulture: As you head to your seat for the new David Byrne musical Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, at the Public, you may smile upon seeing a painted stage drop bearing the legend "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." Clever, you think: repurposing Mitch McConnell's rebuke of Elizabeth Warren as a tribute to the Maid of Orléans. (That girl was nothing if not persistent.) Nor will the show's opening moments disabuse you of the contemporary connections that Byrne and the show's director, Alex Timbers, obviously want you to make. The first line of the first song is "What can one person do?" - a plaint Byrne could have lifted from any of a million recent tweets. It is soon followed by "Are we as helpless as it seems?" and "What does it cost to be free, not just survive?" By the time the song ends with Joan herself singing "Let me be your Joan of Arc," you can't help but get the point: Despite the story's setting in 15th-century France, the fire is here and now.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: The lean Jo Lampert, who plays Joan, has a robust voice and a compelling androgynous-kick-ass look, accented by Clint Ramos's transhistorical costumes, but the show gives her nothing to play but uninterrupted self-belief, rendered banally. Although the music is sometimes energetic, the libretto hardly ever lives up to it. Consider the show's inciting incident, when Joan believes the saints are speaking to her. "There's somehow a brightness / A great light all around," she sings. "I can hear their voices / How softly they do sound." That clunker at least has the virtue of actually rhyming, unlike most of the lyrics (which include such earscrapers as "side"/"alive" and "believed"/"feels"). Despite frequent resorts to blunt narration, the basic storytelling is muddy.

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