Conceived, directed, and choreographed by Alex Timbers, the pageant has a book, music, and lyrics by Kyle Jarrow. It dutifully recounts the life story of the "teacher, author, explorer, atomic physicist, nautical engineer, choreographer, and horticulturalist" who founded the so-called religion that numbers among its adherents such celebs as Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and John Travolta. Modeled after the sort of children's Christmas pageant you're likely to see in a Catholic grade school auditorium, the show lampoons Scientology and its sub-study, Dianetics, simply by having sweet little children tell us all about engrams, auditing, the reactive mind vs. the analytic mind, and the theory that human beings are infested with the souls of dead space aliens.
In much the same way that Les Freres Corbusier recently hoisted evangelical Christians with their own petard by presenting a "Hell House" at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, their Scientology pageant is staged and performed in a completely straightforward manner. The very few criticisms of Scientology voiced in the show are quotes from journalists and others who have tried to expose the church as a cult and a scam; they are answered with the sort of responses you hear when someone tries to defend any belief system that's based on blind faith rather than reason. But the bulk of the pageant consists of amusing vignettes and alarmingly catchy songs with hummable melodies and hypnotically repetitive lyrics.
The 10 children who make up the cast are as adorable as they are talented. William Wiggins is wonderfully earnest as L. Ron, rather than playing the man as a fool -- which, of course, would have been a huge mistake. Sean Moran is quite the little charmer throughout the 55-minute-long show and especially in his brief bit as Tom Cruise, during which he manipulates sock puppets representing Cruise's wife Katie Holmes and daughter Suri. Steven Lobman seizes his moment in the spotlight when he plays a robot. (Hubbard was a pulp science fiction novelist before becoming a religious leader.) And though angel narrator Elizabeth Lynn's diction is not as clear as it might be, the kid is so cute that all you'll want to do at the end of the performance is give her a big hug.
With a minimum of means but tremendous creativity, scenic designer David Evans Morris, lighting designer Juliet Chia, and costumer Jennifer Rogien help move the pagent along in scenes variously set in such far-flung places as Nebraska, Hawaii, New York, and China. Timbers' direction and choreography are perfectly suited to the style of the piece, and he obviously has a great affinity for working with very young actors.
There are a couple of minor flaws in the presentation; the keyboard accompaniment sometimes covers the unamplified singing voices of the children (Gabriel Kahane is the musical director), and the sightlines in the New York Theatre Workshop's Fourth Street Theatre annex are problematic because the seats aren't raked at the proper angle. But none of this will severely mar your enjoyment of a unique theatrical experience.
When A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant was first presented in 2003, it was reported that Rev. John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, was concerned that the creators meant to ridicule the religion by perpetuating clichés based on lies. Carmichael eventually attended a performance, and though his reaction is not recorded in the press materials for the current revival, it's hard to imagine that he would have been able to articulate any objections to the show. It is what it is: a non-satirical satire, performed with no winking or rib-poking whatsoever. Call it ingenious.