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  • Theater, Off Broadway
  • 2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Transport.Irish Repertory Theatre (see Off Broadway). Book by Thomas Keneally. Music and lyrics by Larry Kirwan. Directed by Tony Walton. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. One intermission.

Transport: In brief

Thomas Keneally, best known as the author of the novel adapted into the film Schindler's List, wrote the book for this musical, which examines the perilous journey of Irish women exiled to Australia in the 19th century. The score is by Larry Kirwan, of the rock band Black 47; Tony Walton directs the world premiere at the Irish Rep.

Transport: Theater review by Diane Snyder

Three heavy hitters are behind the new musical Transport, yet the results are weak. Set during a devastating period in 19th-century Irish history, when thousands of female prisoners were shipped to Australia to serve their sentences and correct a gender imbalance in the penal colonies, the piece is inspired by book writer Thomas Keneally's wife's great-grandmother, who was one of those unlucky women.

Keneally wrote the novel that was adapted into the film Schindler’s List, and his collaborators are composer-lyricist Larry Kirwan (of the band Black 47), and director and Tony-winning set designer Tony Walton. But while they aim for the epic sweep of, say, Les Misérables,Transport—set on a prison ship as it makes its journey Down Under—dances around the darkness (sometimes literally).

The eight characters (including four convict women) are more like vessels through which information, themes and sentiment flow. In what seems like a nod to Jean Valjean, Bride (Pearl Rhein) is on board for stealing butter for bread, while rebel Katie (Jessica Grové) hid her brother from officials. Protestant Polly (Emily Skeggs), clutching her baby, fears the influence of the Catholics surrounding her; and Maggie (Terry Donnelly) appears on the verge of madness as she has visions of the hardship ahead for her people.

Kirwan’s strongest songs—a grab bag of pop, Irish folk and contemporary Broadway—are those that are least connected to the story, the romantic ballad “Lost to Me Now” and the jig “The Roaring Forties,” for example. At other times, the quality of the lyrics detracts from the action, such as when a prisoner is beaten while another sings, “She’s woman whipped by lash / And she wears a bloody sash.”

Walton gets mostly satisfactory performances from his cast, who move around a dark set consisting of steps and a ramp. Those elements, and Yana Biryukova’s projections of the skies floating by, are the coldest and most foreboding aspects of a show that doesn’t reach the oceanic depths it might have.—Theater review by Diane Snyder

Follow Diane Snyder on Twitter: @DianeLSnyder

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