NEW YORK — Here lies dud.
David Byrne, who three years ago with Fatboy Slim and director Alex Timbers riffed smartly and cheekily on the life of Imelda Marcos in the rollicking “Here Lies Love,” has returned to the form (sans Fatboy) to wrap a 15th-century French martyr in leather pants and humorless rock anthems for a musical called “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire.”
The results are as deadly as those for “Here Lies Love” were delightful. The disappointment here has nothing to do with the fact that last time, the audience at the Public Theater was on its feet throughout the show, compelled by the format to keep moving as scenery and actors shifted around a black box space reimagined as a party palace. On this occasion, the audience at the Public remains seated and completely still — a phrase that also captures the dramatic impact of “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire,” which had its official opening Wednesday night.
In the guise of Jo Lampert, a rock performer and DJ, Joan is conceived here by Byrne and Timbers, who directs again, as a grimacing Amazon with a messianic fixation and a magical effect on the brutes who make up the French army. Ten beefy actors, deployed by choreographer Steven Hoggett like a choir of fitness models in chain mail, portray the various priests and soldiers and Gallic royals whom Joan beguiles with her unwavering, muscular reverence.
“Have faith/ Be strong,” goes the mantra embedded in the monotonous lyrics. A tone of mournful inevitability suffuses Timbers’s production and a dark, turntable set on which a six-member hard-rock band is arrayed. Part of the problem here is lack of variation. On the 90-minute march to Joan’s martyrdom, after she’s taken prisoner by the English and condemned to burn, the musical tone almost never shifts. It’s not unlike the effect of a medieval mystery play: a one-dimensional recounting of the events in a believer’s life.
The physically vigorous Lampert has impressive lung power but little expressive range. The male chorus is similarly emotionally straitjacketed. In the final minutes, Mare Winningham materializes as Joan’s mother, to sing a thoroughly forgettable ballad. You’re left with the impression that you could learn and feel just as much about Joan of Arc by staring at a stained-glass window.
Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, book, music and lyrics by David Byrne. Directed by Alex Timbers. Choreography, Steven Hoggett; set, Christopher Barreca; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Justin Townshend; sound, Cody Spencer; projections, Darrel Maloney; special effects, Jeremy Chernick; wigs and makeup, Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas; music director, Kris Kukul; production stage manager, Scott Rowen. With Rodrick Covington, Mike McGowan, Kyle Selig, Terence Archie, Sean Allan Krill. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $120. Through April 30 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., New York. Visit publictheater.org or call 212-967-7555.