Ready for a happy-go-lucky jazz musical about adultery, murder, vengeful ghosts, and suicide? No? Even with a gang-rape tap ballet thrown in? Thou Shalt Not marshals such a bizarre potluck of talent – choreography and direction by Susan Stroman, music and lyrics by Harry Connick Jr., plot by way of Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin – that the stars would have to be in perfect alignment for the thing not to go kerflooey in fascinating ways.
Well, the stars, for one, aren’t in alignment: They’re Craig Bierko (Harold Hill in Stroman’s Music Man revival) and Kate Levering (42nd Street), playing the adulterous lovers of Zola’s proto-noir melodrama, here set in post-WWII New Orleans. Bierko is just not an actor who can play murderous rage (bemused pique, perhaps), nor does Levering have the range to convey Therese’s primal emotions. Only Norbert Leo Butz, as cuckolded Camille, seems wholly alive, and that’s in the second act, when he’s dead. Stroman’s dance routines retain the overkill elegance of Contact and The Producers, but even she can’t coax Connick’s swing tunes and formless ballads into dramatic life. This could have been a camp classic – spinning topless sex scene and all – but then they had to cut the dance number in the morgue.