The Joan of Arc, as energetically portrayed by Jo Lampert in David Byrne’s new rock musical “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire,” is no poetic character gently pondering her faith and course of action. This Joan is a powerful, muscular fighter who looks as if she can wage battle with the best of them from the get-go. She is a woman who fits the over-the-top rock score provided by Byrne, who also wrote the lyrics and book. The result is a loud, exuberant pageant, complete with a burning at the stake simulated with special effects.
The trouble is that the score becomes repetitive and frankly, boring, after a while. Lampert’s performance as Joan achieves stature in the context of Byrne’s rock-vision, and those playing multiple roles as soldiers and others pack the work with further energy. But the music and lyrics fail to achieve emotional involvement. Only at the end when Mare Winningham appears as Joan’s grieving mother Isabelle to appeal for Joan’s exoneration does the musical generate intense feeling.
This Public Theater presentation, directed by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Steven Hoggett, makes an attempt to connect martyrdom with today’s challenges. That’s obvious from what greets the audience members before the start.
The curtain bears a giant sign: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Recognize the words?
They were spoken by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to justify silencing Senator Elizabeth Warren. Although Warren has not yet been burned at the stake, she has endured the enmity of the Republican leader for daring to speak her mind.
So much for references. “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire” is an ambitious effort to present the saga of Joan in a different manner—via rock music and direction attuned to the method --but It achieves more visual than emotional impact. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-539-8500. Reviewed March 16, 2017.