Mary Bair and Alejandro Vega in The Passage. Photo by Amy Anderson.
The Passage or What Comes of Searching in the Dark has a lot of good things going for it. The visuals are engaging, the child actors are fantastic, and Grant Sorenson is a standout member of the ensemble. Musically, however, it is as eminently forgettable as the lyrics, and the enterprise as a whole feels like a working draft.
7th House Theater is notoriously terse in describing its shows. Sometimes this works really well at avoiding giving away key plot points, and allowing the pleasant discovery during the theatrical journey. It can also cause a severe miscalibration, as when buys a ticket expecting Next to Normal and gets Hannah Montana. (Microphone levels weren’t well calibrated on Sunday, either, although it got better after the first few songs.)
The Passage would be a perfectly fine musical for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd. This is not to whom it has been marketed and not, likely, a demographic for which many will come, which is unfortunate. Plot holes and identity crises notwithstanding, the script has some very well-written and affective scenes, most of which dwell on child actors Alejandro Vega (as Albert Grissom) and Mary Bair (as Cassie). Much ink could be spent on Vega and Bair’s performances, which are excellent and full of a professionalism and naturalism that are usually not paired together at their age. It’s an excellent star vehicle for them.
From the outside looking in, the root of The Passage‘s troubled areas seems to be the company’s creative process. The script and score by David Darrow never quite gel together; the piece never establishes whether it is depicting flights of imagination, magical realism, or something else. Some of the best moments recall Alice in Wonderland and cool visuals are abundant, but the lyrics pull down the functional score. The harmonies aren’t so much boring as uninteresting, and there just aren’t musically pregnant or poignant moments – something of a surprise with this company, given their last two works.
One of the most revealing pieces of U2 history is a stolen session tape showing early versions of the songs from what would become Achtung Baby. While there are bare bones of what would eventually become one of the band’s most successful albums, for the most part those early draft recordings are pale, pale shadows for which the magic had yet to come. (Bono and The Edge’s Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, as it played on Broadway, never emerged from that rough draft stage.)
With The Passage, there is a sense of no one having said, “This needs more spice, more peaks and valleys” in the process; it has more of a flavor of being either too long or too short, and thus awkwardly in-between. This is the sort of concern that a director or producer typically raises in a development process, which makes one ponder the wisdom of this particular ensemble-driven development engine when a single person is responsible for penning all of the spoken and sung material. There’s some good stuff waiting to come out, but there’s notably some missing meat (or tempeh) on these bones.
Should you take your kids to see The Passage? If they’re over 6, they’ll be engaged for the duration. After that, well…it’s better than much of the fare that’s served at most theatres for the young, but nevertheless light on the calories.
The Passage or What Comes of Searching in the Dark plays through Dec. 4 in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.
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