The Inconvenient Miracle: A Mysterious Birth Musical is a modest little show that surprising works in most categories. While the ensemble does not have any standout singers, they are perfectly cast in their roles, most playing teenage students at St. Agatha’s School for Girls, along with Gael Schaefer (replacing Cecilia Vanti) as the conflicted headmistress Sister Florence and the irrepressible Ellen Orchid as Marjory Rosales, the heroine’s grandmother. Emily Rose Simons’ melodic and bouncy score is always easy on the ears, and Emily Claire Schmitt’s book has enough twists and turns to keep interest high.
With a story by director Ria T. DiLullo and bookwriter Schmitt, it follows a year in the life of Vanessa Rosales, the lone atheist at St. Agatha’s, who is more interested in science than religion. When Abigail Percy, the most popular girl in school and a self-proclaimed prophet, announces that Vanessa will be the next Virgin Mary and that her beloved grandmother Marjory will die soon, Vanessa punches her in the nose. This leads to daily morning detention with Sister Florence, the last remaining nun of her order, who is having a crisis of faith and is awaiting a sign from God. When Marjory dies and it begins to seem like Abigail is a true prophet, things begin to get difficult for Vanessa. Everyone turns out to have a secret, some of which are rather surprising. While Trisha Montgomery, Vanessa’s best friend at school, tries to keep the peace, Vanessa and Abigail find themselves at loggerheads.
While the story depends on questions of faith, Schmitt’s irreverent dialogue for the parochial students makes this story quite contemporary and up-to-date. Although Simons’ occasionally witty lyrics are serviceable and forward the plot and the characterizations, they scan as often as they don’t with some rather prosaic verses, but always suitable for the story. DiLullo’s direction is sharp and shrewd getting credibly fine performances from her cast of eight and making the small stage look filled up by the six students representing the entire school.
The brief choreography by Kal Leski for several of the girl chorus’ songs is totally appropriate to the age range of the characters. We don’t see the fight direction by Luzmyrna Crespo coming and it adds drama to the plot. While the uncredited setting is fine for the school scenes with its wall of bookcases and huge cross, the hospital for Marjory’s room setting gets lost in the shuffle. Caterine Sanchez’s costumes are suitable making each girl a little bit different even though they wear the same school uniform. The lighting design by Celia Frey is not as atmospheric as it might be. Pianist Simon Broucke plays the entire score with verve and passion.
Playing teens 14-15 years old, the six members of the cast offer credibility and verisimilitude. As Vanessa, the troubled teenage heroine, moody Deijah Faulkner is most endearing, giving her character greater depth than written. Samantha Streich is amusing as the arrogant, mean girl Abigail who as a prophet turns out to be remarkable prescient. Nicola Barrett walks a fine line as everyone’s BFF. As Vanessa’s grandmother who dies in the first act but returns as an angel in the second, Ellen Orchid captures the bohemian spirit of a woman once a nun who needed a more secular life. As Sister Florence, Gael Schaefer on book is letter perfect and creates a believable headmistress going through a crisis of her own. Morgan Misk, Bella Anaya Hathorne and Joy Karen Pangantihon as the other classmates and Samantha’s disciples add able support as a group rather than as individuals.
The Inconvenient Miracle: A Mysterious Birth Musical is both entertaining and engrossing. The cast playing 14-15 years old is quite convincing, throwing themselves into their roles, making the mystical story believable and contemporary. Deijah Faulkner gives a layered performance as the protagonist Vanessa. As the adults Ellen Orchid and Gael Schaefer add fervor and fierceness. Although this new musical has small ambitions, it fulfills its mission extremely well.
The Inconvenient Miracle: A Mysterious Birth Musical (through August 27, 2022)
The Skeleton Rep(resents) and Episcopal Actors Guild
The Episcopal Actors Guild, 1 East 29th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.inconvenientmiracle.com
Running time: two hours and 25 minutes including a 20 minute intermission