This Beautiful City Theatre Review - A Mildly Praise-Worthy Production

This Beautiful City is the story of Ted Haggard and his New Life Church, put to music. Set on the campuses of  New Life Church, a non-denominational Evangelical Protestant Christian megachurch located in Colorado Springs, Colorado,   the show examines how under Haggard, the movement took root, converting the small town in Colorado into a hub of the evangelicals.

(l to r) Stephen Plnkett, Brandon Miller & Brad Herberlee in The Civilians' "This Beautiful City"

 

The time is the spring of 2006 leading up the election, the place is Colorado Springs. The show opens with a musical greeting from a hodgepodge group of folks which included a trio of Cowboys, all recounting how religion, one way or another, drew they to Colorado Springs. We move through the story with as scene by scene we are met with a new introduction, the audience referred to as observers of some sort from New York. So as characters break the fourth wall one by one, we meet the people of Colorado Springs.

 

The ensemble rotates through a gamut of characters, some apprehensive, some eager to talk with these latest “visitors” from New York. We meet activist championing the gay marriage initiative for the up coming election. We meet various characters from the Christian right and left religious activists. We meet the common folk of Colorado Springs and get their view on how the Christians have “taken over” their town. We, the visitors in this story, arrive at a time when several religious leaders have confessed of been exposed as homosexual and are present to see the fall of the movement’s biggest titan in the Evangelical world, Ted Haggard himself.

Stephen Plunkett (r) and Cast in "This Beautiful City"

Ironically (perhaps not), and despite the varied voices of the piece, I felt as though I were sitting through two hours of proselytizing. It was the dreaded irreverence to the fourth wall that kept me from engaging in this fantasy. I didn’t want to be part of this show, but making the audience the observer, you have no choice. And while the script does allow for lots of voices to be heard, it seems they were to usual cast of characters with no one really having anything new to say. The arguments in this piece were very balanced and very safe; simultaneously a good and a bad quality in the script.

The show is held together by short “tourism tidbits” of precaution and instruction, provided by an ever-changing park ranger of some kind. Each ensemble member takes a turn at describing the terrain of the land, the essential knowledge the average tourist must have and providing snippets of information to use on the visit here to Colorado Springs. Try as I might, I just did not see the parallel between the ranger bits and the social-political tale that it was supposed to bind together. Perhaps, just simply parenthetical comic relief devises? Fun facts about Colorado Springs, an homage to the backdrop of the story? I missed the point.

Brad Herberlee (l) and Brandon Miller in "This Beautiful City"

I understand that music is one of the ways that Evangelical scene has been transformed into something hip and cool. The praise and worship segments of the show absolutely warrant the “musical spectacle”. However, I don’t think that is the best reason to make this show a musical. A few of the musical numbers were fun. But as a piece of musical theatre I thought it fail to be interesting; the piece stands up better as a series of monologues. With the exception of perhaps two songs, the musical numbers would better be described as interludes. You could take most of the songs away without loosing any real insight in the plot or characters of the piece. They just were not an integral part of the storytelling.

There are a few good reasons to see this show. Brandon Miller delivers a couple of killer monologues, heatedly challenging Christian Evangelical influence in matters of sexual and religious freedom within domains that are supposed to be governed solely by the impartial state. Marsha Stephanie Blake is a powerhouse in the second act as the pastor of a Baptist church, trying to deliver The Word to a congregation who has just ousted their regular pastor for publicly announcing that he is gay. Both performances will blow you away. Well done.

Marsha Stephanie Blake in The Civilians' "This Beautiful City"

The production design is brilliant, using every surface as an opportunity to project an image or a texture, transforming life-size lego figures into landscapes, topographical maps, buildings and computer screens. The marriage of multimedia and lighting design are truly impressive; and one of the things that they do best at the Kirk Douglas.

The light show is the thing

This Beautiful City is currently showing September 21 thru October 26, 2008 at:

Kirk Douglas Theatre
(downtown Culver City)
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

http://www.centertheatregroup.org/

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

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