In conjunction with the Southern California Festival of New American Musicals, the team of Glen Roven and Jerome Kass have conjured up an earnest if simplistic retelling of Noah’s biblical plight, filtered through Katrina survivor concerns. Buoyed by Roven’s easy-listening gospel/rockabilly score, helmer Peter Schneider fluidly marshals the talents and energies of a 200-member singing and dancing ensemble.
Set on a rooftop during a devastating flood, “Norman’s Ark” focuses on the machinations of ever-optimistic academician Norman (Philip Casnoff), his insecure wife, Alice (Karole Forman), and his three distrusting children (BJ Wallace, Noah Galvin, Tiffany Espensen). Hoping to distract his family from their dire predicament, Norman recalls the travails of Noah and his family as they struggled to survive God’s watery indictment of civilization.
Kass’s book relies on a series of predictable interactions, as Norman steadfastly insists the family can weather any storm by working together with hope and courage. Much of the show’s humor comes from the children’s sarcastic insistence that their dad is a total klutz; their feelings are well voiced in the mildly rockish “You Don’t Have a Clue.”
Schneider enlivens the relatively static rooftop environment with the active involvement of God (Dawnn Lewis) and her near 80-member massed choir of angels, ably supported by music director Michael Kevin Farrell. Lewis and company are vocal powerhouses who bring thunderous authenticity to a string of gospel-tinged ditties.
Musical highlight is the full-cast rendering of “Norman and His Family’s Floating Zoo,” which introduces the show’s captivating pairs of animals. Kudos to Christine Kellogg (choreography) and Ann Closs-Farley (costumes) for transforming more than 100 children into a dynamic, highly effective ark menagerie.
Casnoff is well cast as the mild-mannered schoolteacher. Forman is at home as Norman’s tentatively trusting wife who attempts to reassure her children that Norman is a worthy father.
Bordering on gratingly precocious and negative beyond the text, the trio of Wallace, Galvin and Espensen redeem themselves as they coax a dove (beautifully danced by Sonja Dale) to fly off to find dry land in “Fly, Little Bird.”