The Kansas City Repertory Theater opened last season with an excellently dark take on Grimms Fairy tales with Into the Woods and ended it with what was easily the best show I saw last year, which Time Magazine also praised as such with Venice. Thus, Rep artistic director Eric Rosen had his work cut out for him when setting up the opening show of their 2010-11 season. So did he and director Gary Griffin pull it off? Sort of.
Saved is a musical take of the 2004 film of the same name. I should note I was quite a fan of the film on which this show is based. The story is a biting religious satire on life at the fictitious American Eagle Christian High School. It follows a group of seniors who on the surface seem to be leading perfect Christian lives, particularly one Hillary Faye (Justis Bolding). The reality of course is never what is presented at face value and soon just about every hot button social issue from homophobia, to teen pregnancy, ostracism and more is touched upon by the time the final curtain falls.
This appears to be the second staging of the musical after a short run off Broadway in 2008. That run was hammered by critics and didn’t last long. The Rep’s production is giving the show a second chance at being tweaked a bit more. It’s a curious choice as it seems almost too obvious as a grab at audiences that have been enamored with the Fox breakout Glee, as Saved features similar characters and a high school setting.
Saved is funny at times though is hampered more than anything by most of it’s music. All the main plot points from the film are carried over, though mixed together at times by song. The problem I had with the musical choices are two fold. One, the music was performed “live” but it was done by a drummer and as best I can tell a midi synth. This cheapened the overall feel of the show for me, the deal breaker was the amount of sing/song dialog exchanges taking place during the show. Some featured no less than four characters overlapping their stories and singing their own lyrics at the same time resulting in a muddled mess.
As for the performances, aside from the music and lyrics they were all fine. The laughs, which come often though not quite often enough keep the show from going completely off the rails and feeling too long. Saved is performed without an intermission. Most of the laughs come from Cassandra (Gillian Goldberg) the school’s only Jewish student. Mary (Laura Hizenga) carries the show well, and Roland (Patrick Andrews) and Dean (David Hull) deserve a mention for their performances.
So Saved isn’t as much of a kick start to the Rep’s season as last years. Though it’s nice to have their edgier brand of theater back and I look forward to what it has in store.
I give Saved 3 “packs of Camels” out of 5
By John Coovert