Press and Media

The Denver Post

April 9, 2015

4 Stars | Musical Premiere

By Lisa Kennedy
Denver Post Theater

Something visceral and vivid is taking place at the Denver Center, where the musical "The 12" is receiving its world premiere.

Robert Schenkkan wrote the book and Neil Berg the music. The two share credit for the lyrics of this boldly compassionate work that imagines the disciples' very human angst in the hours after their teacher was executed.

Let there be long shadows. Let there be anguish and suspicion. Let there be deep fear and hard-wrought faith. So might go the promise of this beautifully performed work.

There will be swagger and doubt and arguments aplenty as Pete, Tom, James, John, Andrew, Phil, Bart, Simon, Jimmy, Matt and Thad gather in the room that hours before was site of a loving, if prophetic, supper.

The wiry - and sarcastic - doubter, Tom (Tony Vincent), is there already.

Brothers James and John burst in together. These "sons of thunder" are imbued with muscular might by Jordan Barbour and Terence Archie. Matt (Jordan Leigh) drags in a bloodied Thad (Maximilian Sangerman), who's got a nasty head wound.

The 11 arrive like the Jets after Riff and Bernardo have met their ends in "West Side Story." Adrenaline pumping. Scared. Wary. Only there is no rival gang. There are the Romans and a riled populace.

Fishermen, a zealot, a tax collector, laborers - the "Ordinary," they sing in the second act - they are hunted. They are political prey. They are haunted by a spectacular triumph that turned tragic.

The early, achingly nostalgic number "Do You Remember?" finds them, lights arcing like a stadium rock show, recalling the thrill of their arrival in Jerusalem.

As for Judas? He's dead, too. At one point, zealot Simon (Gregory Treco) confesses to killing him. If you're thinking that doesn't sound right, it's good to remember that "The 12" unfolds in chaos, amid rumor and self-serving, defensive accounts. James and Pete (played with soulful thoughtfulness by Colin Hanlon) bicker over leadership. Tom tears at his own reasons for being there.

Although her arrival is treated for the most part with rebuff and worse, Magdalene (Christina Sajous) also makes her way from the scene of the Crucifixion to this chamber. And Mother (Jeannette Bayardelle) makes an indelible appearance.

In a room of so much testy testosterone, it's the Marys who crush it. This is not an irony lost on the musical's creators.

Sajous' Magdalene is a superstar. Her first solo, "I Did" is a gale-force ballad of belief.

'Tis a blessing she's a whore because she serves an evangelical role in the room. She's pragmatic and tender, asking the questions the others have forgotten in their haste to figure out what's next for themselves.

The cast brings a vigor and inspired diversity of voices to "The 12." The cast brings a vigor and inspired diversity of voices to "The 12." (Provided by Jennifer M Koskinen) In the second act, having returned from an empty tomb, she's the one who entertains the impossible, singing "What If?" They've all witnessed miracles and now are rationalizing them away, but "what if?"

It's a standout performance, but the entire cast brings a moving vigor and inspired diversity of voices to "The 12."

Director Richard Seyd keeps the energy taut. Nothing here is static, even when it suggests a tableau, a frieze, a sculpture. In the wake of a death, the staging is alive.

Seyd never lets us forget that the Teacher is gone and his students are dazed, confused, angry.

Rock is a muscular choice for those emotions. (And this is hardly the first time the Jesus story has had a roiling rock 'n' roll score.) But it's not simply the clangor of the five-piece band, conducted by Michael Mancini and supervised by Wendy Bobbitt Cavett, that whets the show's edge. Choreographer Connor Gallagher gets at the gathered's rage against the machine.

Yet for all the riffs and licks, the most stirring songs have soul-rumbling gospel roots. Mother follows her fierce, grief-soaked solo, "Rain," with a question for those who've proclaimed devotion for her son: "What are you going to do?" The question hangs over the room, the theater, and ends the first act.

There are very few faltering notes - musical or otherwise - in this production. And none are false.

John Iacovelli's one-room set of rough-hewn wood is wide, space enough for the large ensemble to move with vigor. Yet it never loses its sense of a consecrated intimacy.

Lighting designer Lap Chi Chu's work here could be the 12th soul the title hints at (it's not). But it is a cast member. It comes like shards from the slats in the floor. It can bathe. It can be painterly, recalling depictions of The Last Supper. It can arrive in criss-crossed beams that remind us of the cross we do not see, the one that symbolically hangs over the action.

If "The 12" is missing something it might be a couple more numbers that are a little less power-chord, a bit more indie rock. When Phil (Brad Standley) strums the guitar and Bart (Andrew Mayer) takes up the violin for the first time, in between "Anyone but Me," and "Do You Remember?" it's a start. And the gentle "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," started off by Pete as the gathered begin to accept their calling is nearly perfect.

In a sense, "The 12" ends with a complement to The Last Supper. It's a bold vision of the group as they prepare to leave the room, to embrace their fates, to go forth.

Let there be light.

"THE 12" Book and lyrics by Robert Schenkkan. Music and lyrics by Neil Berg. Directed by Richard Seyd. Tony Vincent, Jordan Barbour, Terence Archie, Anthony Federov, Colin Hanlon and Christina Sajous. Through April 26. 2 hours, 8 minutes. At the Stage Theatre in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. Tickets $35-$69 via or 303-893-4100.