A post-modern take-off on the Book of Revelation, Tribulation: The Musical, with book and lyrics by Molly Miller and music by Brad Kemp, reimagines the Apocalypse through the eyes of a recent college grad. It’s 2021, and Genevieve has just graduated from Harvard, with dreams of entering a “New Age” and becoming a poet. And just because that “New Age” turns out to be the threshold of the Biblical End of Days doesn’t mean that her rent isn’t due and she doesn’t need to work. So, while dealing with the devil, she takes a data-entry job she hates, with a boss and co-workers she hates.
The problem is, the audience can’t help but hate them too. Filled with overblown unlikeable stereotypes and predictable jokes, the script and score are long and redundant, incessantly peppered with puerile profanity and juvenile talk about sex acts and body parts. While the heavy-handed humor and blatant direction by Tyler Samples might work as a short sketch in an improv comedy club (members of the ensemble and creative team are affiliated with Chicago’s iO Theater, where the show previously ran), it gets old in a full-length two-act musical.
Sarah Hoffman’s Genevieve is the epitome of the entitled artist of her “New Age” generation, complaining “This Sucks” in a powerful vocal and taking the moral low ground in “More Important.”
Sally, played with over-the-top histrionics by Sarah Dell’Amico, is the tyrannical boss that no one will grieve for when she’s gone (performed by the company, “Someone You Hate Dies” is the most amusing and insightful of the show’s songs).
Genevieve’s whorish colleague Lilly (Erin Rein) talks about nothing but anal intercourse and her private parts, and sings about “Sex in the Tribulation,” while her antithetical office mate Nathan (Seth Wanta) is an annoying Christian who constantly prays and proselytizes (“We Told You So”), until he, too, turns tawdry and gives us TMI about an encounter he had.
More understated performances are turned in by two standouts in the cast: Zach Dimond, who brings some slacker charm to his role as the Second Coming of Christ; and Nick Shine, who delivers laughs in his portrayal of the anti-Christ Dameon Goodman (“I prefer to think of him as the anti-me”), incarnate as an unscrupulous businessman who takes control of the insurance company where Genevieve works.
And under Charles Worth’s musical direction, the ensemble’s harmonies, accompanied by live piano, are spot-on throughout the mostly sound-alike songs, performed with repetitive look-alike chorus-line choreography by Lauren Lopez.
In the end, Tribulation: The Musical is plagued not by the disease prophesized in the Bible, or by the distress of unfulfilling jobs in a bad economy, but by coarse humor, hackneyed characters, and a lack of subtlety.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.