For one brief, thrilling song, the idea of a musical based on Carl Sagan's sci-fi novel Contact makes perfect sense. The song is called "Prime Numbers," but none of the characters sing; instead, they count along with tolling synth notes arriving in a frequency from Vega, a far-off star. Gradually, the scientists learn the notes are coming in the form of prime numbers—which signifies an intelligent force behind the signal—and celebrate their discovery by jumping up and down and screaming with joy. The moment justifies the show's conceit: that a story about scientists and scientific discovery can translate into exciting musical theater.
Unfortunately, Contact runs about two hours longer than "Prime Numbers," and the rest of it is dismal. The prerecorded music, by Peter Sipos, is amateurish and messy. Two songs, "Faith or Proof" and "In the Motel," are so arrhythmic they barely qualify as songs. Several numbers, including the title song, are so schlocky and obvious ("This is our home right here, this pale blue dot/It's all that we've got!") they practically parody musical theater. And not even half the cast can sing. Some are off-key and some have weak voices, making many numbers sound like bad karaoke. A few of the actors give good performances: Eric Hartley plays a fun, self-aware cliché of a hedonistic billionaire, and Lance Channing plays a wicked evangelical preacher who jumps adroitly and believably from friendly to nasty.
Alan Bryce's adaptation of the novel rushes in some places and lingers too long on the sentimental. The theater's sound system pops with feedback. And the science-fiction elements of space travel are poorly handled: Contact's set is an enormous quarter hemisphere of white fabric. Poorly computer-animated sets and action are projected onto the dome, which means the cast is forced to react lamely to the lame video. All in all, the production felt like a workshop. Maybe one day someone will dream up a great, worthy musical-theater adaptation of Contact. But, after sitting through this one, the breakthrough feels light years away.