Sometimes even the most inspired geniuses need to do some rethinking, reworking, and rewrites of their greatest creations to forge an unforgettable masterpiece. Such is the case with God, Michelangelo, and Richard Rodgers in Take One, the exceedingly witty and tuneful new musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Jeff Ward, now in its world premiere in FringeNYC.
In three hilarious acts—“The Ballad of God,” “The Ludovico Technique,” and “Intervention!”—Ward imagines the original versions of Adam and Eve, the Sistine Chapel, and Oklahoma! before the final edits were made. What if the first man and woman resisted temptation and didn’t eat the forbidden fruit, after being warned by God in “About That Tree”? What if the Italian High Renaissance master had an artist’s block, and couldn’t get his frescoes done in time to satisfy Pope Julius II, as he laments in “Vision”? And what if the classic Broadway composer refused to make the cut demanded by librettist Oscar Hammerstein, because his favorite song (“The Song I Wrote”) didn’t support the plot? A whole lot of terrific numbers, clever lines, and laughs would ensue–that’s what. And so they do!
In the best Broadway style, Director Michael Schiralli opens and closes the show with a high-energy bang, and everything in between is also fully entertaining, smart, and funny. Each member of the cast plays multiple roles and distinguishes well between the tongue-in-cheek characterizations of the iconic creators. In the leads, Tom Alan Robbins as God, Keith Varney as Michelangelo, and Carl Howell as Dick Rodgers bring the right combination of self-confidence and self-doubt to their engaging portrayals. Supporting actors Rob Brinkmann and L.R. Davidson are appropriately clueless and obedient as the newly created Adam and Eve (he delivers one of the show’s most memorable lines: “Eve, I’ve been looking for you all over creation!”); Corrado Alicata is adorable as a milder and gentler Cain; and Caroline Schmidt is seductive as the Serpent in Act I, Savonarola in Act II, and Celeste Holm in Act III.
Though the script takes some artistic license with Renaissance chronology–the controversial Dominican reformer was already dead by the time Michelangelo painted the papal ceiling, and the renowned statue of David in Florence predates the artist’s work in the Vatican, whereas in the show it follows–the time-bending vision does include well-researched and accurate quotes from the Bible, from Michelangelo to Julius (who never failed to remind his powerful patron, “I’m a sculptor,” not a painter); and from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s first musical collaboration.
The strong vocals and rich harmonies of the cast, with top-notch musical direction by Nathan W. Perry, are accompanied by live piano and bombastic Broadway-style choreography (Robbins is especially great with his hands). Historicizing costumes by Betsy Rugg-Hinds identify the characters, positions, and eras, as do Lauren Page Russell’s amusing set and props, and the illuminating lighting by Coby Chasman-Beck.
While the premise of Take One is that not everything is right the first time around, this show comes pretty close. Let there be a second take, beyond the short run in FringeNYC!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Listen to music samples.