Theatre Critic Dislikes the "Jesus Freaks" in Christian Satire "Saved"

The theatre critic doesn't like the play "Saved": "Why does it often feel like 'Legally Blonde,' only with, like, Jesus freaks?"

The front page of Wednesday Arts section featured theatre critic Charles Isherwood's review of the Christian satire "Saved," based on a middling 2004 movie of the same name ("At School, Sin's a-Poppin' And Cherubs Are Singing"). Isherwood didn't like "Saved," but not becausethe playtakes on easy targets like devout Christian teens:

Just another day at the American Eagle Christian High School, the shiny happy place where the shiny happy new musical "Saved" takes place.

Based on a 2004 movie with a mild cult following, this tale of Christian youth struggling with big issues of faith and identity, sex and love, and prom dates involves some notable talents from the downtown theater scene. Michael Friedman, who composed the music, is the house tunesmith for the Civilians troupe. Rinne Groff, who shares credit for the book with John Dempsey, has had work produced at the Public Theater and Performance Space 122. (All three writers are credited with the lyrics.)

So why does "Saved" have the same sweet, sanitized flavor of so many market-tested, formula-born Broadway musicals these days? Why does it often feel like "Legally Blonde," only with, like, Jesus freaks?

The answer may have something to do with the tricky subject matter. It is not easy to write credibly and sensitively for teenage characters, much less for singing teenage Christian zealots. The movie, written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban, took a haltingly mocking view of the Christian youth movement, with Mandy Moore playing Hilary Faye, the self-assured leader of the pack, a Heather with a halo.

The paper's top movie critic A.O. Scott reviewed the movie in May 2004 and found it was not mean enough to Christians.

Isherwood has dealt with religion in his reviews before, with dire results.