I appreciated Forth Children’s Theatre’s stunning production of this mess of New Testament musical. This young cast is terrifyingly talented and better than many professional companies. If you can stomach a steaming pile of identical faux-gospel tunes and enjoy having the cold cockles of your heart warmed by adorable children you will be in heaven. These kids are good. The real star of the show is the FCT, which is locally-based and clearly capable of putting on a damn fine show.
This is not a normal Fringe show. It’s two-and-a-half hours long and has its own private venue in the faraway land of Inverleith. FCT has been around since 1979 and its high standards should be an inspiration to community theatre groups everywhere. I wish I could watch one of their past productions of Oklahoma! or Guys and Dolls.
The massive cast, (47 total, rehearsals must have been a nightmare), are backed by an excellent live band. Unfortunately, someone has been telling these kids that louder singing is always better singing. From the front row, which is up close and personal due to the thrust staging, the effect is loud. Very loud. Even unamplified they are a very audible choir of angels and possibly in danger of straining their incredibly good voices, especially Gus Harrower as Jesus. Harrower’s Jesus, reminiscent of a small 50s beatnik, is the most likeable Jesus I’ve ever encountered. The numbers are wonderful and innovative, and the young dance corps boasts lots of talent. Jack Nixon’s tap skills stuck out as especially impressive.
In the program notes, director Ronan Radin writes that he approached the show as a celebration of the FCT community rather than the religious community. This is a lovely sentiment but doesn’t save the show. The cast are all adorable, wonderful, and clearly having a great time, but unfortunately all the songs sound the same. However, any of the numbers involving the dancers make up for this and the parables meant to pass for the show’s plot were devised by the cast and are pretty cute, even if alarmingly full of Kim Kardashian references.
Fans of Stephen Shwartz, the man behind both Godspell and Wicked’s music, will enjoy this production. It’s well worth the trek to Inverleith to see these crazily talented and disciplined young performers.