Much heartfelt sincerity has been lavished on “Suddenly Hope,” a new musical set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is suffused with hope for a better world. But sincerity without sophistication and insight can all too often lapse into naivete and cliche, and such is the case here. The result is a one-dimensional musical love story saddled with a preposterous plot of intrigue and skullduggery in Northern Africa.
Show opens with a full-cast number titled “Waiting,” which gives way to a solo of the song by the Messiah (Daniel Neiden), who is waiting for the world to pull itself together and prepare itself for his coming. Eventually, he gets tired of waiting and opts to sort out the life of one Hope Levine (Evy O’Rourke), an uptight, self-obsessed New York lawyer whose sister Amy (Kelly Fleck) has been teaching English in an Arab school in Jerusalem and has gone missing.
With the Messiah manipulating the characters and the plot while playing a variety of roles, Hope falls in love with a colonel in the Israeli army (John Leone), finds her sister and ultimately foils an attempt to blow up the Israeli Knesset during a peace conference.
Along the way there are a number of Jewish rituals including a wedding with a hora, a Shabbat dinner (with a song to match) and a “Song of Prayer” at the Western Wall.
Plot and characters are written in shorthand and a deeper polish to the material is sorely missing. The musical’s book is quite simply too naive and simple-minded to begin to cope with the hope-defying mess of hatred and misunderstanding in Jerusalem. And the music and lyrics do nothing to alleviate the situation.
The score relies heavily on sub-Sondheim talk-sung songs, and the vaudeville number for the Messiah that opens act two, “When the Messiah Comes,” seems emotionally out of place. Its lyrics promise all the best chocolates in the box and that “Woody and Mia will be the best of chums” when the Messiah comes.
The cast and direction are thoroughly professional. The slickly minimalist production is performed in a 250-seat black-box theater improvised on the large stage of the 750-seat Rich Forum.
Set designer Lauren Helpern, in particular, has worked wonders with minimalism, backing the three-quarter thrust stage with a towering rough-hewn stone wall (presumably the Western Wall) and giving it movable sections that allow for a variety of doors and/or windows.