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Judas and Me
That's my best effort at cramming as many religious puns as possible into one sentence. And it wasn't easy. So I have to admire librettist Chad Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar (both acclaimed for "The Wedding Singer") for managing to keep the biblical gags rolling for two hours. The witty lyrics and punch lines are so abundant, in fact, that periodically they overlap. Even more lamentable, the constant parade of parodies suggests the authors are both trying too hard to be funny and failing to cut the bits that are too easy.
This overabundance is the primary flaw in an otherwise clever, witty, irreverent musical. The impressive cast is stocked with Broadway names, including Ann Harada as Judas Iscariot's funny, endearing, but neglected sister, and Leslie Kritzer as the sometimes show-stealing angel Gabriel. Jennifer Laura Thompson plays the Virgin Mary with humor and oft-alluded-to grace, beautifully balanced against her neighbor and rival "Biblical stage mom," Barbara Walsh's Rheba Iscariot. Doug Kreeger and Nick Blaemire play their sons.
As Jesus is one of the main characters and all the others (except for Rheba) are his followers, his death at her instigation feels awkward for such an irreverent musical. After some dark moments involving the crucifixion, the show closes with Rheba saving herself from stoning by admitting that Jesus—and not her son Judas—is the Messiah. She delivers a rollicking hymn about a miracle man from Galilee and finds economic salvation by selling Jesus figurines. This feels a bit cheap and disappointing, and it confusingly shifts the tone from serious drama to riotous satire.
While "Judas and Me" does not contain any earth-shattering revelations in the realms of faith or musical theater, the talented cast and clever writing offer some great laughs and a fun time to those who can enjoy a little laugh at the Lord.
Presented by Rachel Neuberger and Leo Lauer as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the American Theatre of Actors–Chernuchin Theatre, 314 W. 54th St., NYC. Sept. 30–Oct. 11. Remaining performances: Fri., Oct. 2, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 4, 5 and 9 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 9, 7 p.m.; and Sun., Oct. 11, 5:30 p.m. (866) 811-4111 or www.nymf.org. Casting by Mark Simon.
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