“The Dark I Know” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closed August 3, 2013)

Book and Lyrics by Alex Eisen
Music and Arrangements by John Watts
Directed by Rachael Brandt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Alex Eisen’s and John Watts’ “The Dark I Know” chronicles the lives of two boys growing up in Frankfurt Germany during Adolph Hitler’s meteoric rise to maniacal power in post Work War I financially ruined Germany. Transported from Berlin to Frankfurt by his adoptive mother Hannah Schenck (Sabina Petra), Lukas (Johnny DiGiorgio) experiences the horrors of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and the growing Nazi threat as he befriends his new Jewish friend Noah Freeman (Noah Parets) his new neighbor in Kauffs’ (Warren Schein) building.

A variety of intertwining conflicts drive a dark plot in this new musical and serve as an extended metaphor for the horrors of the holocaust and all movements (past and present) which attempt to break the spirits of free people and enslave them in tyranny and torture. The musical’s creator’s decision to have the young adult Lukas and Noah on stage throughout the performance is a great convention and allows the audience to “be on stage” themselves.

The actors do their best to enliven the writer’s and composer’s lyrics and score but the music is often ill-fitted to the lyrics and the vocalists sometimes struggle to complete the musical line with ease. And sometimes a potentially wonderful song loses its impact in the delivery: the “Chess” like anthem at the close of the first act falls relatively flat because the actor fails to grab the lyrics and empower them with meaning. The best songs are those recurrent baroque-style arias. Also Victor’s (Ian Brodsky) second act song “Why This Boy” cries out for a “Why This Girl” sung by Sarah (Loren Moslin) and leading into a duet.

Themes of revenge wrought by anti-Semitism and hate resound with themes of change and the secrets of the past. Ultimately, themes of hope and future and renewal lead to forgiveness and absolution that is “sweeter than honey.” More work is needed on this musical which seems more in progress than a finished project. The good news is that what is there currently deserves that concerted effort.

This cast must be congratulated on its ability to stay focused during the antics of the most rude and disruptive audience this critic has ever experienced. One patron left her seat in the front row during the first act to speak to a friend sitting midway up from the stage. She then exited and re-entered the theatre several times before she retrieved her missing partner who eventually clumped down the stairs with her – again during the performance – to regain their front-row-aisle seats! Others entered extremely late and chatted in the back of the theatre until they, too, clumped their way to vacant seats. And just as the musical was ending, a cell phone went off in the last row – an event which the offender found funny enough to actually giggle. What is worse, these were all apparently family and friends of the performers. Rule of thumb: if you cannot behave – no matter who you are – inside a theatre and respect the actors and creative team, please stay home. Your friends and family on the stage and the remainder of the audience will thank you for that courtesy.