Musical `River' flows even without a libretto

The River ``A musical revelation'' with music and lyrics by Peter Link. Directed and choreographed by Michael Shawn. ``The River,'' at the Promenade Theatre, is a metaphorical musical which takes its inspiration from Scripture and the forces of nature, gathering momentum as it flows. In a mingling of styles, from pop and gospel to blues and rock, composer-lyricist Peter Link creates an impressionistic entertainment that proves its appeal in the performance of a talented singing company.

Mr. Link's parable begins at the beginning with a few passages from Genesis, intoned with sonorous authority by Danny Madden, who (among other assignments) handles the recitatives. ``The River'' completes its biblical references with ``Revelation,'' in which the full ensemble performs an anthemlike setting of passages from the Apocalypse.

In between, ``The River'' makes its way through a series of musical numbers grouped under symbolic headings. In ``The Stream,'' for instance, Jenny Burton exults in the elation of ``Don't It Feel Good.'' A ``Waterfall'' interlude climaxes with the frenetic ``Run River Run'' and ``Over the Edge'' for a frenzied first-act finale.

``The Mire,'' the Act II opener, depicts man's degraded state, whether among drugged and derelict street people or decadent penthouse revelers. The sequence ends with ``Love Runs Deeper Than Pride,'' in which Miss Burton sings of a redeeming transformation.

At whatever level of emotion, ``The River'' proves a communicating theater experience. Notwithstanding that the basic device can seem at times overworked, there is a viable logic to the fluid images of Link's morality musical. Enthusiastic spectators responded to the more stirring numbers with rhythmic hand clapping. When the company achieved ``Ascension'' in ``Take Me Up,'' the audience rose to the occasion.

The accompaniment is from a taped score simulating or reproducing 200 instruments. The splendid ensemble of vocalists includes Carol Dennis, Valerie K. Eley, Lawrence Hamilton, and Stephanie Ren'ee James.

Lacking a formal libretto, ``The River'' depends to an unusual extent for its dramatic impact on the movement skillfully choreographed by director Michael Shawn. David Dille's costume changes (ranging from basic choir robes to rags and riches) make important visual contributions. William Barclay's gently tiered setting, with its concealed trapdoor to hell, has been lighted by Phil Monat to respond to the music's changing moods.

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