BWW Reviews: THE 12 with Denver Center Theatre Company
The 12, a new rock musical about the days after Jesus's death, has had an interesting life, and now it's getting a full staging in Denver.
It's mainly been produced as concerts over the past seven years, developing into what audience can now experience fully with Denver Center Theatre Company.
In the show, the group of 12 consists of 11 men and one woman, Mary Magdalene (Christina Sajous). The male apostles are Tom (Tony Vincent), James (Jordan Barbour), John (Terence Archie), Andrew (Anthony Federov), Pete (Colin Hanlon), Phil (Brad Standley), Bart (Andrew Mayer), Simon (Gregory Treco), Jimmy (Colby Foytik), Matt (Jordan Leigh) and Thad (Maximilian Sangerman). You might notice slight name variations from their biblical roots. The cast is actually 13 when you throw Mother Mary (Jeannette Bayardelle) in the mix.
The featured actors have had their fair share of modern rock musical experience in shows like Rent, American Idiot, We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages as well as a couple contestants from American Idol and The Voice.
With a book by recent Tony-winner and Pulitzer recipient Robert Schenkkan (who penned the LBJ portrait All The Way), The 12 takes place in Jerusalem, right after Jesus's crucifixion. The plot doesn't do a ton, though. Jesus dies, and the men who followed him are hiding out in a room, trying to figure out how to escape their own minds first before facing the world again. They fight with each other. Sins are confessed. Furniture moves stylistically for choreography reasons. A couple Marys stop by to let them know what's happening outside.
There's a brief love story between Jimmy and Magdalene that's almost unnecessary. A few of the fellas are fishermen, and they're really stoked to tell you about it. A couple even sing a cute duet about it...but that doesn't really fit in either.
The characters are complex enough, but it's tricky to delve into the backstories of that many characters in a two-hour show. The focus starts with Pete, who's a bit of a leader in the group, played with intensity by Hanlon. There's Tom, a passionate nonconformist given an angsty emo-rock vibe from Vincent. Treco's Simon, who claims to have killed Judas, is lent raw passion. Sajous's Magdalene is dynamic force, shaming the guys for not raging like she has.
Bayardelle's performance as Mother (Mary) takes the show's emotions to a heightened level at the end of the first act. Her vocals in "Rain" are those of the Holy Mother herself. Enjoy them while they last, though, because you only get a few minutes of that glory.
The music, by Neil Berg, pulses with authentic rock flair with touches of folk and even some rap. Schenkkan teamed with Berg on the lyrics. "Walk Away" plays like a Linkin Park tune. "Rise Up" is an earworm with a gospel flavor. Bart and Phil's "Sweet Dream" is endearing and pulls you out of the darkness for a minute, but it doesn't move much along.
Connor Gallagher's lively choreography is faithful to the show's style. The passion-driven movement highlights the combusting emotions of the characters. It also pairs really nicely with the vibrant lighting.
But it seems as though The 12 is having difficulty finding where to draw the line between its religious roots and a universal approach. The hesitation to make non-religious audience members uncomfortable almost seems like a disservice to the story (and this is coming from a guy who has avoided church for decades). They don't say Jesus; he's "Teacher" in this show. It's also tough to wholly appreciate the characters without a little prior knowledge about the apostles.
Still, the pulsating rock score, breathtaking visuals and stellar cast are enough to keep you transfixed. The performances are passionate, and you end up leaving inspired. Just maybe study some scripture a bit first.
Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of The 12 plays the Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through April 26. For tickets, visit www.DenverCenter.org or call (303)893-4100.
Photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen