The Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Really Work Out All That Well
Brian Dowell
10/10/2004 8:42:46 PM

The Ten Commandments
The Kodak Theatre--Hollywood, CA
September 29, 2004

The center of Hollywood is an odd location for the United States premiere for a musical based on a popular Bible story. The Kodak Theatre, which hosted the entire Los Angeles run of the Ten Commandments, is best known as the home of the Academy Awards, a ceremony where soulless denizens of the amoral entertainment industry shamelessly pat themselves on the backs. It rests in the back of a mall on Hollywood Boulevard, which is a half of a mile from a well known row of porn shops and street hookers. On the night I attended the show, Marilyn Manson was doing a in-store CD signing about 50 yards from the theatre.

If the location for The Ten Commandments musical wasn't sacrilegious enough, it features Val Kilmer, a Hollywood asshole who is best known for realistically playing doomed drug swilling rock stars, as Moses. The music of the show was composed by a guy who co-wrote most of Madonna's early hits, Patrick Leonard, who doesn't exactly have the most religious credentials. Worse yet, producers of the show gave beer swilling heathen journalists like me free tickets for the Wednesday night performance of the musical. So, although the house was full of bussed in senior citizen church groups, attending this musical wasn't exactly like a night at your local house of worship.

Everyone who's ever been forced to attend any religious schooling knows the story of this one. It's a dramatization of how Moses freed the Jews from the Pharoah and led them on a forty-year trek through the desert. It's appropriate, because sitting in the audience, this show feels like it's forty years long. Sure, like any expensive spectacle, it does have its moments, but this musical simply isn't very good.

I should say that, initially, I was reluctant to attend. I expected to be indoctrinated with Christian propaganda, attending a musical like this one. Based on the title alone, one can almost expect to see tripe like this advertised with slogans like, "Finally, a musical that you can bring your family to without having to worry about sitting amongst a bunch of queers!" Actually seeing the play, though, it's short on mushy God talk; the big guy hardly gets any mention at all. It mainly emphasizes both the action side of the story, (plenty of whipping, and fighting and explosions) and, surprisingly, some kinky dancing. One wonders how the senior citizen church groups felt about watching Moses marrying a black chick surrounded by belly dancers, or hot lesbians giving a grinding lap dance to a statue of a golden calf. The dancers were very skilled and did lend some general energy of the show, but I certainly questioned how appropriate their moves were in a re-enactment one of the most sacred events in history. (Then again, those of us who were forced to watch the Charlton Heston Moses movie in Sunday school might remember that the heavily lauded film featured unnecessary scenes of frolicking all barely dressed girl orgies, that, back then, made for perfectly sufficient masturbation material.) [Thanks for sharing!—Ed.]

Like most of the recent musicals I've seen, the music in The Ten Commandments is strictly middle of the road soft rock. None of the songs are particularly beautiful or meaningful; anything on the show would fit in nicely on the average Hillary Duff album. Some of the singers are great, but they aren't given much to work with.

The shirtless, chubby, tired looking Kilmer struggled valiantly through the whole thing. I was amused when he had microphone problems during his first number, and a backstage technician had to bring him what was evidently an ancient Egyptian cordless microphone. Also, from where I was sitting, I could see that he relied heavily on a teleprompter that was located near the stage. I guess Kilmer is too self important to actually memorize his role. Only the lyrics to the songs he was singing were shown on the screen. Despite this prompting, Kilmer still managed to flub some lines in the songs. He has a decent voice, but he definitely gave the show a bad vibe, which is something a show as silly as this one doesn't need. Really, if he's going to be reduced to appearing in this type of thing, Kilmer needs to pray to God for a new agent.

Even as an empty headed spectacle, this show doesn't quite work. It's nowhere near as cool as other recent shows, like The Lion King, a show that I really intended to hate, but the pure ingenuity and power of it's staging blew me away. I'll still claim, despite an admitted anti-corporate bias, that the first six minutes of the Lion King might be the most amazing piece of entertainment I've ever seen. For The Ten Commandments
, which is due to tour around the country, the set design was OK, the burning bush was cool, but, as a whole, effects in the show felt a bit forced. The way the plagues were depicted was lame and the parting of the Red Sea looked like something out of the crappy shoebox dioramas that I was forced to make in elementary school.

So, although the religious rubes seated around me in the audience seemed to enjoy the musical, for me, the show was pretty much a waste. I considered leaving during intermission, like some of the wise old journalists seated in my row did.

However, I did think of a way to make viewing the Ten Commandments worthwhile. I decided that during the second act of the show, I'd try to break all ten commandments. It did add some much needed entertainment to the proceedings. Here's a scorecard of how well I managed to do....(and, if you want to try this when this musical tours to your respective locales, please let us know if you managed to beat my score.)

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."--This Commandment was easily broken. I picked the cutest girl on stage and worship her as my new God. So, now, my new God is a Ten Commandments chorus girl with blonde dreadlocks, the unfortunately named Spring.

2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."--I folded my Ten Commandments program, and, in a bizarre piece of origami, crafted a likeness of my new God, the lovely Spring, and started praying to it.

3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."-- This may be the Commandment that I break the most often, but I did manage to squeeze a hearty "Goddammit!" into my show viewing when I realized that the idol that I just made didn't really look anything like the lovely Spring.

4. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy...”--Well, I couldn't very well break this one during watching the second act of the show, since no religion counts Wednesday as the Sabbath day. I am, however, working seven days this week. I have a bunch of things that need to be written, I'm working the day job and I'm doing grunt crew work this weekend on some independent film. I'm not taking a mandatory day of rest, so I am technically breaking this commandment. To me, it still counts.

5. "Honor thy father and thy mother..."--Well, my father and mother were lucky enough to not attend this performance of the Ten Commandments, and they live about 2000 miles away from Los Angeles. So, I couldn't directly dishonor them. However, for the sake of good journalism, I did dishonor them from a distance. I picked a quiet moment in the play and uttered, out loud, "My mom and dad suck." I don't think anyone heard me, but still, such an action was entirely dishonorable.

6. "Thou shalt not kill"--Well, OK, I didn't manage to actually break this one. In Catholicism and mainstream Christian philosophy, though, if you WANT to break one of the Commandments, technically, you've broken it. You've sinned "in your heart". And attending this show did make me want to kill somebody. So, while I didn't actually sin, I did consider the possibility, which is also a sin.

7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery."--I didn't break this one either, although that was mainly due to a lack of volunteers. Perhaps, if I had planned things ahead of time, I could have brought one of my wife's skanky friends to the show with me and offer me an "Alanis Morrisette special" during the second act. Either that, or I could have just consulted my new deity, Spring.

8. "Thou shalt not steal"--There were a bunch of Ten Commandments programs laying unattended on a staircase next to me, so I ran over, grabbed a handful and illicitly stuffed them into my jacket.

9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."--When the beleagured usher returned to his post and noticed that a bunch of his programs were missing, I walked up to him and informed him that I saw the old Asian lady seated in front of me had taken them and put them in her purse.

10. "Thou shalt not covet...."--Another easy commandment to break, since it's a basic, natural human emotion. Everybody wants more than they've got. So I coveted seats that were closer than mine, and I stared angrily at the guy onstage that got to bump and grind with the lovely Spring.

So, during the course of the second act of The Ten Commandments, I managed to break eight of them physically and all of them mentally, which, to me, seemed like the only way that attending a performance of this musical a productive use of time.

It should be noted that since Mr. Dowell saw this performance, the show has closed for retooling and will reopen later this month, although we doubt that it will do much good.—Ed.


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