Final offering of Theatre Company season: Rock musical 'The 12'

Kent quote

The12_300The 12 rises up where the iconic rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar leaves off: Just after the crucifixion of Jesus that left his closest friends and followers facing powerful crises of faith.

The world premiere of this highly charged and highly sought new musical by the powerhouse duo of Robert Schenkkan and Neil Berg will be the final offering of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company’s 2014-15 season, Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson announced today. The 12 will open March 27 and run through April 26 on the Stage Theatre. The announcement completes a 2014-15 lineup that begins on Sept. 12 with the new The Unsinkable Molly Brown and will now feature three world premieres.

Thompson said comparisons to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s JCS will be understandable. But while The 12 shares some similarities, it is different in many ways. Mainly in that Jesus has died and not yet been resurrected. So the focus here is instead on his disciples, working-class men (and women) who have returned to the scene of the Last Supper.

“It’s similar to Jesus Christ Superstar in that it’s a rock musical — although it also has R&B, soul and the influence of rock music after the time of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” Thompson said. “However, it’s about a very different moment in the story — after the crucifixion of Jesus and up until the opening of his tomb. And the central characters are the 11 remaining apostles and Mary Magdalene.

“It focuses on the chaotic and dangerous time after the killing of Christ when his followers are trying to deal with their guilt in abandoning Jesus, (and also) their doubts, fears and promises. Plus, they are in tremendous danger of being caught and killed.”

In the midst of great chaos and violence, The 12 addresses fundamental questions of faith. “In the face of tragedy,” Thompson said, “Do you abandon your purpose, or do you renew your purpose?”

Schenkkan won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for The Kentucky Cycle, and his acclaimed LBJ drama All The Way just won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Play, with Bryan Cranston in the title role on Broadway. Schenkkan has been commissioned to write a future play for Thompson through the Steinberg Commission in American Playwriting, named for administrator – and DCPA Trustree – Jim Steinberg. 

The score for The 12 is written by acclaimed composer/lyricist Neil Berg, whose The Prince and the Pauper ran for two years off-Broadway. He is currently working on the new Broadway­-bound musical Grumpy Old Men.  (That features John Rubenstein, who will be appearing in Denver next month in the launch of the national touring production of Pippin.)

Berg is known by Denver audiences for writing the musical Heidi, which was commissioned by Douglas Love and premiered at the former Walden Family Playhouse in Lakewood.  Heidi ran for more than 80 performances in its regional premiere here, and has been staged around the country since. Thompson calls his music in The 12 “exciting,” and his songs “very compelling and well-written.”  

Schenkkan is one of the most chameleonic writers of the day. Like Matthew Lopez, who wrote the seemingly anachronistic The Whipping Man and The Legend of Georgia McBride, Schenkkan has shown a remarkable breadth in the scope of his work. All The Way traces LBJ’s passing of the landmark Civil Rights Bill of 1964. By the Waters of Babylon follows the steamy romance between a Texas widow and her Cuban gardener. The Kentucky Cycle is a series of nine plays that examine the myths of the American past as they play out for three families in eastern Kentucky over 200 years. What appeals to Thompson most is the epic nature present in all of Schenkkan’s storytelling.

“Because of his deep research and amazing grasp of history, politics, society and culture, he brings to life indelible characters that feel authentic,” Thompson said. “He is endlessly curious, and has great compassion.”

The 12 will mark the third straight season the Theatre Company will finish with a musical, following Sense & Sensibility and Animal Crackers. Thompson said he was not searching for a musical to fill this last slot, but found The 12 to be the best available project. “It’s not a major change in artistic vision,” he said, “but it fulfills my larger goal to create unforgettable experiences for audiences and artists.” 

Thompson expects The 12 to be an invitation to a new kind of live theatre audience.

“I think it will appeal to wide range of audiences, from teens to baby -boomers and beyond,” Thompson said. “Given Robert’s script and Neil’s music, I believe this show will appeal people of all faiths and backgrounds. Rock is now embedded in our world — we hear it every day. It is more contemporary and vital than classic Broadway music. I also think the journey of the characters will prove very compelling to many, many people, no matter what their faith.”

The official show description for The 12 reads, in part:

Thrilling, heart-pounding music and one of the most influential stories of all time unite in The 12, which enacts the ultimate test of faith faced by the disciples in the wake of their leader’s unthinkable death with an original, authentic classic rock music score. The 12 is a rockin’ and profoundly honest journey of fear, doubt, and ultimately, love.

The 2014-15 Theatre Company season, at a glance:

Sept. 12-Oct. 26: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Stage Theatre
Sept. 26-Nov. 2:William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies, Space Theatre
Oct. 10-Nov. 16: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Ricketson Theatre 
Nov 28-Dec 28: A Christmas Carol, Stage Theatre
Jan. 16-Feb. 22, 2015: Appoggiatura, Ricketson Theatre
Jan. 30-March 1, 2015: Benediction, Space Theatre
March 20-April 19, 2015: One Night in Miami, Space Theatre
March 27-April 26, 2015: The 12, Stage Theatre

Individual tickets to all Theatre Company shows are available at 303-893-4100 or  click here. Subscriptions start at $278 and are available here.