Tuesday, March 30, 2021

515. THE SURVIVAL OF ST. JOAN. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Mathew Tobin, Ronald Bishop, Gretchen Corbett
THE SURVIVAL OF ST. JOAN [Musical/Biographical/Period/Politics/Youth] B/LY: James Lineberger; M: Hank and Gary Ruffin; D: Chuck Gnys; S/C: Peter Harvey; L: Thomas Skelton; P: Hailey Stoddard and Neal Du Brock; T: Phyllis Anderson Theatre (OB); 2/28/71-3/14/71 (17)

A "medieval rock opera” (no, not Pippin) with an antiwar theme that had begun as a concert produced at the Playwrights Unit before being expanded to a musical with songs and dialogue. Its premiere was in Buffalo the previous year. 

The Survival of St. Joan, which, despite its weak showing in this production, appears to have had an afterlife, is a retelling of the Joan of Arc story using a revisionist account in which the Maid of Orleans (Gretchen Corbett) is not burned at the stake. Instead, when a reputed witch is slain in her place, Joan is allowed to live after confessing her transgressions. She takes up with a mute farmer (Richard Bright) who falls in love in with her, but with the Hundred Years War (an allusion to the Vietnam War) continuing to rage, she rejoins the army, where she is rejected and even must fight off being raped. Joan ultimately meets her appointed fate when villagers accuse of her of hexing their cow. Before she meets her appointed end, however, bound to a tree, her saintly voices, which have deserted her, return.

The many songs, which can be heard on the show’s album, include “Survival,” “Someone Is Dying,” “Back in the World,” “Stonefire,” “Country Life,” “Cornbread,” “Darkwoods Lullaby,” “Propitious,” and “Burning a Witch.” Cast members, all playing two or more roles, included F. Murray Abraham, Lenny Baker. Mathew Tobin, Ronald Bishop, Patricia O’Connell, Janet Sarno, and Tom Sawyer.  

Performed by having the story acted out downstage while upstage an Atlanta rock band called Smokerise sang the lyrics and accompanied the action, The Survival of St. Joan ran into stiff  opposition. (Two of the band's four members wrote the score.) Clive Barnes torched it for its notably poor book and lyrics: “Rarely can such pretentious nonsense have been foisted upon the public. It pretends to be modern, modish, fashionable and presumably even significant. But it has little to declare but its quite remarkable impudence. Chuck Gnys's staging was as atrocious as the acting.”

Next up: Sweet Feet