Forget the prostitute we all love, the one who belts “I
Don’t Know How to Love Him” in Jesus
Christ Superstar. According to The
Magdalene (and the Gnostic texts left out of the Bible as we know it), Mary
Magdalene was a feisty spitfire with a Mia Farrow pixie cut, who questioned the
treatment of women by church officials and society and turns out to have known
how to love Jesus all along. She also likes to belt out a few tunes herself,
though none of them as catchy as the ones in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Time Rice
There’s very little that’s catchy in this new musical,
staged in the round at Theater at St. Clement’s, a choice that makes the piece
feel more amateurish than it might otherwise. The book, from J.C. Hanley and
James Olm, who also co-wrote the songs, follows a young Mary from her unhappy
home life, where her father whips her, to her travels with the young shepherd
she meets, named Yeshua. They become fast friends, then something more, while
Mary occasionally hallucinates the daughter she can never have. Yeshua turns
out to be Jesus Christ, the superstar himself, and he prompts Mary to preach
and baptize his followers alongside him, which causes no end of trouble with
the intensely jealous, misogynistic Peter.
Staged with a minimum of fuss (and effort) by Richard Burk, The Magdalene is neither entertaining
nor campy enough to overcome its limitations. Lindsie VanWinkle has plenty of
pluck as Mary, but her performance and the role are alternating notes of spunk
and steel determination, helped not at all by the instantly forgotten lyrics
she must sing (a chorus of actresses-as-sheep perform backup during one,
happily bleating between verses). As Yeshua, Shad Olsen is predictably cheerful
and upbeat, even when arrested for his heresies. The rest of the characters are
an assortment of stereotypes and plot-propelling devices, save blind midwife
Rivkah, here played by Evangelia Kingsley with misplaced Jo Anne Worley verve.
Some dust has been kicked up by Jewish groups, claiming The Magdalene is anti-Semitic. It’s not
particularly; the show is as wan and non-threatening as a Communion wafer,
leaving you hungry for something meatier.
Through July 13, Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.
(betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), www.themagdalenethemusical.com; $55–$75.