A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down for Mary Poppins, but it sure doesn’t help the play Saved, a musical with very different intentions playing a few blocks down the street. This production, a sanitized and sweetened version of the 2004 movie of the same name attempts to be more kind and sympathetic than its predecessor, but in doing so, it loses all of what made the film a success.
The film was a sneaky, satirical look at evangelical Christians in high school that are thrown into chaos when Mary, a devout Christian, gets pregnant by her boyfriend Dean in an attempt to save him from being a homosexual. Exposing much of the hypocrisy of organized religion, the film was entertaining and informative. The play, however, is neither of those.
Much of the movie’s success can be credited to Mandy Moore’s performance as Hillary Faye, a high-school senior Jesus freak. A Heather donning a crucifix, she was the ringleader of the girls at American Eagle High School and the lead singer in the band The Christian Jewels. Moore, with honey-colored locks and a honey-coated voice, made Hillary’s fanatical, and sometimes cruel actions, sympathetic while still humorous. The play, on the other hand, tones down Hillary’s character, making her bland and boring. Mary Faber does what she can with the role, but it isn’t much.
After Mary admits Dean’s secret to Hillary Faye, she tells his parents and he promptly sent to Mercy House which will apparently “fix” him. When Mary realizes that she is pregnant (it is never explained if sexual education is taught in her school or not) she is helped by Cassandra, the only Jewish student at the school and Hillary Faye’s paraplegic brother Roland (wittily played by Curtis Holbrook). The play also involves a loose subplot of a flirtation between Mary’s mother (Julia Murney) and Pastor Skip (John Dossett) and an attraction between Mary and Pastor Skip’s son Patrick (Van Hughes). Of course, everything comes to fruition at the prom and is resolved on an ambiguously happy note of hope and, of course, faith.
Celia Keenan-Bolger plays Mary exactly as she is written: innocent, sweet and naive. The result is satisfactory, Bolger, a talented young actress, should have been given so much more. Mary’s story is not an easy one, but this attempts to make it just that. The ending is unsatisfactory and feels like a cheap cop-out to what could have been an actual story.
And that’s just the plot. The music of the show is an entirely different story. For starters, there is too much of it. Much of the dialogue of the show is sung-through when it could have been merely spoken. It was a clever decision of the creators to set the music to the style of music used at modern Christian worship services, but one has to wonder how many of the audience members are going recognize this in order to appreciate it? Many of the shorter numbers are bright and colorful and loud, but neither original nor clever. At one point my companion at the show said one of the songs set in the high school reminded him of an Old Navy Commercial.
That’s not to say the show doesn’t try. It tries very hard, and a few attempts at witticism are attempted, such as when the Pastor refers to the cocktail “Sex on the Beach” as “Married Sex on the Beach,” or when Hillary Faye states that she wants to “pop the zit of sin” on one of her classmates. But these jokes rarely satisfy. The only time during the show when what the creators were attempting came to fruition was during Hillary Faye’s song, “Heaven Here on Earth,” during which she describes her ideal world. That world includes Roland being cured of his injuries, and Holbrook leaps out of his wheelchair and bursts into a joyful tap dance, reminiscent of 1950s MGM musicals. That moment showed what this show could have been. Sadly, it did not last very long.
“There’s something wrong with Mary,” the chorus sings as the visibly pregnant Mary skulks defiantly through the halls of her school. There’s also something wrong with this show.