by Ron Cohen · August 9, 2014
The title -- and subtitle -- of this New York International Fringe Festival entry give you some idea of what’s going to happen in Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions. But it hardly prepared me for the jaw-dropping, rambunctiously provocative spectacle I witnessed during the course of nearly two and half hours of wildly uninhibited musical theater.
Erik Ransom is the demonic mastermind behind this phenomenon. Not only did he write the book, music and lyrics, he also takes on the leading role of Damian Salt, commanding the stage, while swaggering on towering platform boots and dressed in satanic garb topped by an iridescent red wig. Salt, as you might guess, is a rock star, but he’s also the last descendant of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he’s out to seek revenge for the destruction of his ancestors.
Salt’s nemesis is Josh Crenshaw, a young fellow from Bethlehem PA, who wins fame as a contestant on a TV show called “American Icon,” singing songs about love and goodness that have a soft rock hymnal sweetness. If Josh’s initials haven’t already given it away, it won’t be a spoiler to tell you that he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ. And he’s wonderfully embodied in a completely winning performance by Glen North.
How these two forces collide and conjoin makes up Ransom’s twisty book, littered with jokey biblical and Broadway references, four letter words and lots of stuff that might well be considered blasphemous -- at least before The Book of Mormon came to town and set new paradigms for irreligious satire. There’s plenty of raunch as well, but along with all the sexual cutting up, Ransom is out to spread a gospel of acceptance for humanity’s foibles and different sexual appetites. It’s a humanity that could flourish, he says, once it’s unhindered by the man-made vision of a vengeful and angry supernatural power. The message comes through loud and clear in the joyous closing number, which celebrates “Hell on Earth.“
Ransom has given his show a highly varied, tuneful and catchy score, including some tricky duets and trios, with lyrics that are worth listening to. And he has found sympathetic collaborators in his director Rachel Klein, who also choreographed along with cast member Aurora Black, and his music director and arranger Charles Czarnecki.
Then, there’s the cast, and it would be hard to imagine a better and more dedicated ensemble of players surrounding the indelible performances of Ransom and North. Ilana Gabrielle brings a combination of pathos and spunk as well as some strong vocalizing to the role of Magda, the ex-porn star who becomes the love of Josh’s life. And quick changing through a variety of characterizations ranging from a fierce, avenging angel to Salt’s affable boyfriend, Courter Simmons is no less than terrific. There’s also buoyant work in a montage of portrayals from Mark Willis Borum, Avery Royal, Ashanti J’aria and the aforementioned Aurora Black. A four-man on-stage band completes the company.
Coming is an irreverent show that I could well imagine in the not too long ago drawing devout protesters around the theater, and it may indeed still be a little too raunchy for its own good. But you have to give the devil his due. It’s a helluva show.