BWW Review: ATLANTIS at Virginia Repertory Theatre
Virginia Repertory Theatre should be applauded for its effort to produce new works in Richmond. If its critically-acclaimed productions of David L. Robbins' The End of War and last year's River Ditty were giant steps toward elevating the status of Central Virginia's premier regional theatre, then its unbaked "developmental" production of Atlantis, produced in partnership with Greg Schaffert and Glass Half Full Productions, is something of a misstep. The character of "Kaki" sums it up best: "Strikes me as a bit premature."
The concept of Atlantis is intriguing for a new musical, but the uneven and muddled book by the writing team of Ken Cerniglia, Matthew Lee Robinson and Scott Anderson Morris needs to be completely reworked if the production is to progress forward. The team needs to find focus in its story and flesh out its characters for audiences to connect with them at all.
Matthew Lee Robinson's music is well-composed but is often spoiled by lazy lyrics. Even winners like "I Will Run" are weakened by phrases like, "I would never stay afloat. In fact, I have no boat." Mr. Robinson seems to think words need to rhyme and forces such lines as, "Look at all the jewels, marchin' around like mules (pronounced mew-els)." There is some redemption in salvageable standouts "Let's Start A War," "Stay," and "No One Will Bruise."
Under the capable direction of Tony-nominated Kristin Hanggi and a production team that includes a "who's who" of Broadway creatives, the hardworking, charismatic and strongly-committed cast of some of Richmond's finest and a few Broadway performers put forth a valiant effort but are dealt a serious disservice by the source material for Atlantis. Kikau Alvaro's choreography is fun and full of energy.
The top-shelf technical elements for this production provide some visually-stunning moments for theatregoers. The innovative scenic design by Jason Sherwood uses a burrito drop and neon-lit arches to bring a futuristic element to the legendary island. BJ Wilkinson's lighting paints Sherwood's set with lots of reds and blues, adding strobes of lighting, to great effect. Sound design by Derek Dumais provides layer after layer of environmental hums that propel the action forward. Amy Clark's costumes are an eccentric blend of science fiction and fable.
Lucy Caudle gives one of the most engaging performances as the young Atlantean, Alexa. As the stoic and cold Aeon, Jerold E. Solomon is fully invested. Debra Wagoner's Lotti is entertaining as she performs the humorous and aptly-named "Slow Down."
Antoinette Comer is infectious and spirited as the central character of Maya. In the underwritten role of Kaden, Julian R. Decker's undeniable vocal talent stands out. His rally cry, "Let's Start A War," is the highlight of the production.
It's clear that there's money behind Atlantis, a production that has been in the works for nearly a decade, but much needs to be revisited if it is to successfully ascend to The Great White Way.