In the mega-hit musical satire “The Book of Mormon,” two young adults go to Uganda expecting to change the lives of the impoverished locals. Now what if another musical was built around the same basic idea but actually took it seriously?
Such is the case with “Invisible Thread,” written by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews and directed by Diane Paulus (“Hair,” “Finding Neverland”), which is making its New York debut Off-Broadway at Second Stage.
It is based on its creators’ own experiences in Uganda. Matthews even plays himself in the musical.
We first see Matthews as a sensitive, out-of-work black actor living in Queens with his Jewish boyfriend, Ryan (Corey Mach). After he is kicked out of his church choir for being gay, he impulsively decides to volunteer in Uganda.
But once there, he questions whether his physical labors aimed at building a school will do any real good, so instead he tries to educate a group of teens in an abandoned space. His efforts become complicated by Ryan unexpectedly joining him, an intolerant attitude in the area toward gays and a mysterious act of destruction.
Before Matthews leaves, he leads the teens out of their village and enrolls them in a school. But once back in New York, he is faced with the challenge of raising funds for their education.
It ends on a somewhat unresolved and downbeat note. But for the most part, “Invisible Thread” is a highly personalized but relatable and heartfelt coming-of-age story that explores issues of culture clash and global responsibility. The attractive score combines pop-rock with African rhythms and gospel.
Paulus’ production features a very effective visual design (with great use of video projections) and strong performances from the mostly black ensemble cast.
Here’s hoping that Gould and Matthews’ future adventures inspire more musicals!
If you go: “Invisible Thread” plays at Second Stage through Dec. 27. 305 W. 43rd St., 2st.com.