Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 6, 2023

REVIEW: Goodspeed Opera House, "The 12”

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through October 29, 2023
by Bernadette Johnson

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening” … NOW. Think of the rock musical “The 12” as a sequel to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” depicting a harrowing time in the lives of the most intimate followers of Christ. The story of Christianity didn’t end on Calvary, and this production is a unique approach to those days of uncertainty and turmoil, sketchily referenced in the Bible, that straddled the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Not intended as bona fide “Gospel truth” in every detail, playwright Robert Schenkkan’s creation takes a modern approach, stating, “Imagine what it would have looked like if it had happened in our day and age” approach to the biblical tale. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and director John Doyle’s set design accent the story's ageless relevance without distorting recorded history.

The 11 apostles, challenged by Mags (Adrienne Walker’s Mary Magdalene), cower in an abandoned garage, where barrels and ladders and a few other minor props provide the only staging. Commanding attention, however, is a huge stage-wide beam support that evokes the crucifixion.

Challenged by a script evocative of thought rather than action, Doyle uses tableau, skillfully enhanced by Japhy Weidman’s lighting design, to juxtapose the actors on stage. The technique meets the weight of the story, artistically enriching the depth of each character's internal struggle and their unavoidable dilemma occasioned by the dire circumstances – to flee from the Roman threat or stand firm in their newfound faith.

“The 12” is musically dynamic, delivered artfully at Goodspeed, upholding its well-earned reputation for New York-quality theater in a quiet Connecticut town. Rema Webb's delivery of the song “Rain” as the grief-shattered Mother Mary is a mid-show crescendo, in itself worth the trip.

Whether one’s cultural lens is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist or other is immaterial. “The 12” reaches beyond the Christian Bible to the crux of our shared human existence. At this apex are all the emotions that 11 of Jesus' apostles and Mary Magdalene, claiming the vacancy created by the traitorous Judas, thus rounding out “The 12,” portray on stage – fear, anger, grief, uncertainty, and utter isolation.

Through music and imagination, “The 12” brings its audience to realize that it's not what we feel but the choices we make toward love, compassion and care for others that finally deliver our greatest strength. Resilience.