What do you get when you toss American Indian values, thundering, rock-inflected New Age music and a Tony-winning Broadway choreographer into the same caldron? "Spirit," the shrewdly produced but ultimately ponderous extravaganza that finished a week's engagement at the National Theatre yesterday.
Very simply (too simply), the show is about a young urban man's discovery of his Native American roots. One minute he's marching down city streets among a gaggle of yuppies gabbing on cell phones; the next he's coming to terms with his ancestors' way of living.
Director and choreographer Wayne Cilento ("The Who's 'Tommy' ") keeps the stage abuzz with celebratory dances, but there is a dreadful sameness to "Spirit" creator and composer Peter Buffett's music over the course of the show's 70 minutes. Song after song relies on meditative majesty and soaring guitar solos, while the one basic idea--not even an idea so much as a mood--gets hammered home again and again. Even Cilento's generally inventive choreography keeps boiling down to the same traditional move, a kind of bent-over hop-and-skip with arms swaying back and forth. The stage, surrounded by platforms full of musicians (including a small string section and a ton of drums), is kept full of action and color and energy, but nothing develops and there is no tension to the protagonist's transformative journey. It's a one-note party.