Nero fiddled while Rome burned. So who can blame the Civilians for singing about climate change? The theater company’s new show, The Great Immensity, purports to be the first ecology-minded musical. Among topics that lend themselves to entertainment, however, global warming and its cataclysmic consequences don’t jump to mind. Like the tree-hugging radicals they gently spoof, the Civilians give the concept everything they’ve got, but the show’s pitfalls begin with the idea itself.
The seriously researched, well-meaning production straddles a fine line between doomsaying and doo-bee-doo-bee-doo. Led by angel-faced Erin Wilhelmi as Julie, a less-than-cherubic teen Earth Ambassador, the seven-member cast croons about jet streams, U.N. spinelessness, and “charismatic megafauna,” while Jason H. Thompson’s projection design drapes menacing images of red-hot continents, plastic-strewn seas, and starving polar bears over Mimi Lien’s modular set.
Writer-director Steve Cosson’s storyline catapults from Panamanian rainforest to Arctic tundra, charting a predictable course through the missing-persons mystery genre while patly covering the bases of endangered species. The title, taken from a fictional Chinese cargo ship and a hugely obvious metaphor for the enormity of the problems that face us, sums up the production’s awkward mashup of science and lyricism, which an amusing incursion into hacktivist networks can’t save.
The only thing crazier than Julie’s sensational scheme to raise public awareness about our threatened planet might be The Great Immensity itself.