Moby Dick: The Musical, the show that Theatre on the Square hoped would create a sensation in the Indianapolis — and national — theater scene, turned out to be nothing short of lackluster. Its selling point is the attachment of the name Cameron Mackintosh to the work. Sadly, Mackintosh didn’t come out for this U.S. premiere, and the only one involved in its creation and massaging who bothered to make the trip for opening night was Russell Ochocki, the musical’s American English translator.
One wonders if they knew this was coming … For anyone arriving late to this story, the show is about a group of girls who put on a fund-raiser production of Moby Dick to save their foundering school. Due to the school’s budget woes, props, sets and whatnot are culled from what is lying around the building. The idea is to make it look like a bad school production — the kind you go to see your kids in, and are extremely forgiving towards. The problem is, TOTS is a little too convincing in creating this atmosphere, save the beautiful proscenium created by set designer Brian G. Miller.
The show they have to work with is sub par as well. I came away feeling that Moby Dick: The Musical wanted to be a work akin to, say, Bat Boy, but the quality of the script and music were lacking. There are moments, like the numbers “At Sea One Day” and “Can’t Keep Out the Night,” that almost make it, but then the show degrades again. When Ahab declares, “Dick is my purpose,” a total of two teens in my section laughed. Act 1 ends with a kick line. Songs are full of inane lyrics.
I doubt that TOTS’ production will mark the resurrection of this musical, and frankly, I think Broadway will be just fine without it. If this is the best that can be done after workshops and over a dozen re-writes, it’s time to let this monstrosity of a musical die a dignified death. Many of the vocal numbers were a muddled mess. Most of this I attribute to a cast full of rather young people.
As the show evolved — from small work to London’s West End and with Broadway in mind as the final goal — it was written for mature voices. Of the TOTS cast of 24, 16 are teen-agers from local high schools. Diction and volume were issues throughout. Entire numbers were lost to inaudible performers — some fault, however, has to go to mikes that didn’t seem to be working (but, projection is the key, not amplification). Even cute ideas, like throwing in a parody of Nsync, were lost due to poor execution.
Other ideas, which seemed very Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — like singing about the tide, and throwing out a bottle of Tide laundry detergent; using a Virgin Mary as the bust on a ship — were sporadic and inconsistent. And the fake, long, floppy breasts used during the song “Primitive” were just in poor taste.
Kurt Owens as the Headmistress/Ahab and Ronnie Johnstone as the Janitor/Elijah were, thankfully, not only audible, but animated, campy and fun. Theirs were some of the saving graces of the show. Abby Gillan, as annoying as her dog-eared, ultra perky character was, has the potential for the kind of voice this musical needs. Angi Taylor’s Queequeg was also one of the best parts of the show, with a quirky/exotic characterization. But, after the show closes, let’s hope this is the last we see of the great white whale.
Moby Dick: The Musical, directed by Ron Spencer, continues at Theatre on the Square, 627 Mass. Ave., through Sept. 13; 637-8085.