Signs of Life
This musical about life during the Holocaust never finds a consistent tone.
Set in Terezin, a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, the two-and-a-half-hour work offers some stirring moments, starting late in its first half. But most of the production is too busy struggling for a consistent tone and identity.
The structure of Peter Ullian's book -- full of rushed scenes and non-integrated subplots -- is that of a light comedy. One moment the show seems to be pitching itself as an educational piece, teaching younger non-Jewish audiences rudimentary lessons about Passover meals and prayers for the dead. The next moment, it is overlapping images of Third Reich oppression with occasional anachronisms and the sophomoric sex jokes of a clumsy love-struck activist (played by Wilson Bridges).
The score, by Len Schiff and Joel Derfner, is yet one more knock-off of Les Misérables, full of power ballads and anthems, all pleasantly composed but mostly forgettable. Two memorable exceptions are sung by a supporting character named Berta (Erika Amato), a Jewish wife who has been cast off by her Nazi husband. "Home Again Soon" is a genuinely moving number about a group of Polish children under her charge who are being shipped to Auschwitz for the second time. And in "I Will Forget," Berta challenges us with her own, unique plan for survival in the war's aftermath. Amato slightly overplays at first but eventually settles into her character with quiet dignity. The closing number, "Find a Way to Live," is a beautifully arranged piece sung by the company in a choral style that's considerably less stereotypical than the rest of the score.
Director Jeremy Dobrish is not successful in bringing much dimension to the show, although he has solicited some good performances. Jason Collins is strong as a hedonist from Berlin's cabaret scene who must choose between survival and heroism, while Stuart Zagnit infuses the role of a Jewish village elder with heart and nuance. Unfortunately, Patricia Noonan, whose young art student, Lorelei, leads the action of the story, is not as compelling. For starters, she shows little chemistry with Bridges, dulling the impact of a pivotal romance in the narrative. And it's never believable that she's experiencing the horrors that Lorelei faces.