The current wave of Christian-related content should come with a warning sticker. Tinker with religious narratives at your peril.
Just ask the team behind “Noah,” the 2014 film which took immense liberty with the source material and suffered populist blowback as a result.
“The 12,” the world premiere musical playing at Denver’s Stage Theatre through April 26, takes a more cautious approach. It fills in the dramatic gaps during a momentous time in Christianity … the days immediately following Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
Not much is known about this particular time span, but “The 12” isn’t looking to poke or prod religious audiences. It’s a rock opera first and foremost, one that treats faith with reverence … and some numbers that should be cranked up to 11.
“The 12” opens with the disciplines huddling together, fearing for their lives and unsure what steps to take next. Their leader, who is referred to as “The Teacher,” has been crucified, and they need to both grieve and process what his death means.
The disciples aren’t sure how far to embrace their new faith. Some demand proof when its learned the boulder covering the “teacher’s” final resting place has been moved, while others are too worried that some Roman soldiers will find them.
Mary Magdalene (Christina Sajous) figures prominently in the story, a symbol of forgiveness as well as a soul unwilling to abandon Christ’s work.
“If He had 12 men like me he’d still be alive,” she crows at one point.
The spare set reminds audiences of the Last Supper backdrop, with the rock ‘n’ roll musicians playing above the cast. That cast acquits itself well, with the rebellious Tom (Tony Vincent) grabbing our attention in the show’s waning moments.
Composer and co-lyricist Neil Berg’s numbers at first hearken back to the Led Zeppelin era, but slowly expand to encompass a softer sound and even shades of gospel. The latter bubbles out in the exuberant “Rise Up,” the production’s fiery, unforgettable anthem.
The vocal performances are uniformly strong, with both Sajous and Jeannette Bayardell (Mother) getting the most audience-friendly solo moments.
“The 12” reveals the disciples as ordinary to the core, but that never plays out in a condescending fashion. They also dress in more modern attire, an attempt to connect an historical moment with modern times. Even the dialogue, while never superficial or glib, bears a 21st century tone.
Audiences may flinch at hearing Jesus Christ referred to by the generic term “teacher” and reject the modern trappings. Others may seize upon Mary Magdalene’s role in the production, a figure routinely connected to creative interpretations.
It’s clear “The 12” isn’t looking to unnecessarily stir up a debate. It’s a first-class production from Tony Award winner Robert Schenkkan (“All the Way”), and one that likely won’t stay in Denver for long.