When a lot of talent is attached to a new work of art -- be it a film, a dance production or a musical theater piece -- it is both sad and puzzling to see that opus end up as more of a train wreck than a smashing success. This was, unfortunately, the case with the world premiere of "The Bayou Legend," directed and choreographed by the gifted, hard-working Debbie Allen.
Despite an array of exhilarating talent, "Bayou," seen Saturday during an eight-performance run at UCLA's Kaufman Hall, proved a chaotic kidfest with adult aspirations and included songs and dialogue with very adult themes.
Conceived by Owen Dodson, who co-wrote the book with Jeff Stetson and Allen, this retelling of Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" sinks into the theatrical quicksand. Not even the bravura performance of Rodrick Covington as Sky, a selfish, commitment-phobic, boozy dude who goes on the lam in Louisiana swampland, can save the day.
But Sky does save his soul: Seeking redemption for a font of sins, Sky is aided by mama Golda -- Loretta Devine is a vocal tsunami -- and gal pal Sara -- Vivian Nixon elevates the samba to high art in "I Know You Wanna Dance With Me" -- before finally seeing the light.
Entrusted with the music of Grammy-winning composer James Ingram (lyrics co-written by Allen), the huge cast, including dozens of bouncy youngsters, also boasts a fine Clinton Derricks-Carroll in the dual roles of Troll King and Reverend. As his daughter, Annie, and a nasty underworld queen, Tisha Campbell-Martin shines, whether writhing on fabric suspended from the ceiling or steaming through the ditty "Come 'N' Get It While It's Hot."
Also among the better numbers: "Mama's Blues" and Sky and Sara's ballad, "I Believe in Love." Too bad, though, that most of the 21 tunes, accompanied live by an offstage eight-piece band under Keith Andes' over-amped direction, are derivative. Sky's lament "Who Am I?" smacked of the "Les Miz" song of the same title, while the bass line motif from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" periodically pulsed through the generally generic score.
Francois-Pierre Couture's double-tiered set featured a distressed painted backdrop and lots of staircases, while Timm Burrow's mostly uninspired costumes (trolls have tails -- who knew?), added to the high school feel of the production.
Allen's got the goods. Let's hope, then, that she rethinks the bads.
'The Bayou Legend'
Where: Kaufman Hall, UCLA, 120 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles
When: 2 and 7 p.m. today and Thursday
Price: $15 to $38.50
Contact: (310) 825-2101
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes