Also with: Ciara Battson, Alexandra Currie, Dan Formanek, Frank Hernandez, Angela Haag, Amy McDowell, Mac McNeel, Laire Tagore, Jennifer Dyan West.
As in Shaw’s “St. Joan,” Anouilh’s “The Lark” and Anderson’s “Joan of Lorraine,” the passion of Joan of Arc again proves the substance of fine theater — this time as a musical. Playwright Susan Stewart Potter and composer David Potter give the story an academic and operatic turn, musically reminiscent of the ballads in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s scores, without the reprises.
Potter takes much of her script directly from the transcripts of Joan’s trial for heresy. Therein lies the script’s strength and weakness: While intellectually stimulating, history often becomes too inured in fact to be emotionally stirring.
Potter has taken the approach of all “Joan-wrights,” recalling the girl’s entire story from the advent of her “voice” to her demise at the stake. Focusing on the trial or specific circumstances might have proved infinitely more interesting and lessened the redundancy.
Fortunately, there is nothing derivative about David Potter’s score. Though at times a bit lacking in melody, for the most part Potter’s music soars above the mundane, moving the story along with inspiring lyricism.
Pamela Winslow (Joan) immediately engages the audience, riveting them with her unique blend of pathos and buoyancy of purpose. Her Broadway-caliber voice (no surprise — she created the role of Rapunzel in the N.Y. production of “Into the Woods”) is also impressive.
As Joan’s companion and protector Jean D’Aulon, Clark Sterling is at once strong and sensitive. Sometimes given to posturing, Gregory Franklin as Charles has a fine voice but never shows the reason for the trepidation and compromise of his support for the Maid.
The show’s shortcomings appear most vividly in Ms. Potter’s ragged transitions of time and place. At one point it appears that Joan simply walks outside the French occupied city of Rheims and into the arms of the awaiting English. Another has Charles firmly standing by Joan, only moments later to be writhing in guilt and anguish over his betrayal. These and other rough transitions could be corrected by a little doctoring.
Director John Blondell makes use of every area in Santa Barbara’s Gothic-styled Trinity Episcopal Church, which provides a grand backdrop for the musical epic, though sightlines are a problem, as are the limitations of staging and lighting. Lesley Fenlayson’s period-suggestive, as opposed to accurate, costumes offer an adequate, albeit budget-conscious, look to the show.