I'm still waiting for proof that the rebellious spirit of rock can be translated into commercial musical theater. Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent, Tommy, et al. either watered down the source material or offered tepid rock-tinged scores.
On the other hand, it's tempting to try. Take the possibilities suggested by the life of Jim Morrison. He was a theatrical performer to begin with, and as a songwriter, his best lyrics stand as creditable poetry. And his collaboration with the rest of the Doors produced the kind of weird, chaotic career arc that might generate some theatrically interesting sparks.
Unfortunately, each of those sparks flickers and dies in Celebration of the Lizard, a world-premiere "rock & roll musical fable" at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Not plotted well enough to be a decent stage musical and not nearly edgy enough to be considered rock & roll, the show meanders for two-plus hours through a twilight zone of artless pretension, lame storytelling and sheer goofiness. It's a lot like some of the Doors' less-inspired records.
Celebration of the Lizard places us in a futuristic society where a Stranger (Jeff Meek, who looks the part but lacks the vocal intensity for some of the screamier songs) is fleeing a dying city after killing a cop. On the road, he meets the Queen of the Highway (Karole Foreman, one of the few performers whose vocal prowess is up to the task) and the Lizard Woman (Michele Mais), who convince him that he has a great destiny to fulfill. He winds up out in the desert with a band of hedonists, who have turned their back on the decadence of civilization in order to eat, drink and screw all day. The Stranger now has to persuade the tribe to break on through to the other side, to Arden, a place free of both the emptiness of decaying civilization and the empty pleasures of the wilderness. About this time, Christopher Columbus pops up and everyone bursts into a rousing version of "When the Music's Over" as they climb the rigging of a ship seeking a new land.
Obviously, Joel Lipman, who conceived and wrote the show, is a huge Morrison fan. Why else would he take approximately 40 Doors songs and Morrison poems and try to turn them into this so-called fable? The problem is that Morrison's work wasn't written as one long narrative. This isn't Pete Townshend and Tommy. Lipman is instead trying to give order and coherence to Morrison's words after the fact. That's great if you're writing a term paper, but it's a terribly weak foundation for a play, and the cracks are everywhere. A mysterious figure stalking the Stranger is, of course, the spy in the house of love. When said spy encounters a couple rutting like pigs, he begins singing "Love Street." A woman, angered at betrayal, hisses at a man, "Arms that change, eyes that lie!" When another character dies, we get "The Unknown Soldier."
It goes on and on. And by the time two characters are running in place, arms furiously pumping as they sing the bit from "Not to Touch the Earth" ("Run with me . . . let's run"), that's exactly what these feet were yearning to do.
Celebration of the Lizard at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, (619) 544-1000. Tues., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through July 2. $30-$37.