Forget Nietzsche:  God is alive and well and performing Off-Broadway.

Two original  musicals opened this summer that take an off-kilter approach to the Word of the Lord.  The first, Falling For Eve, re-tells the story of Adam and Eve and runs  through August 8th at the York Theatre.  The second, I’ll Be Damned, which twists the traditional Faustian tale of damnation, closed at the Vineyard yesterday after a too-short run.  Both approach our society’s greatest morality stories with just the right touch of silliness and sincerity.  Both feature original scores by people who aspire to win Tony awards, not rock the cover of Rolling Stone.   Neither one will change your life, or for that matter, the genre, but each one gives true music-theatre geeks reason to be hopeful.

I’ll Be Damned garnered a lukewarm review in the Times and an approving, but bizarre review in The Village Voice.   (Dear Village Voice: In music theatre you don’t have to search too hard for homosexual subtext.   If it’s there, it will up and bitch-slap you, mark my words.)  Falling For Eve, on the other hand, got undeservedly awful reviews, with the Times critiquing the play’s sense of logic.  Seriously?  Since when has the story of Adam and Eve ever been logical?  The Old Testament doesn’t try to address the particulars of creation– for example, if Adam and Eve only had Cain and Abel, then where did Cain’s wife come from?  No, no, no.  The Bible deals with the larger questions of temptation and loyalty, innocence and consequence, and that is what the play sings and dances about for almost exactly an hour and a half.

Need I recap?  God creates Adam and Eve, then places the Tree of Knowledge in Eden,and Eve eats the apple.  She then tries to get Adam to eat it as well, but in this version (spoiler alert) he doesn’t, so she’s cast out of Eden by herself.  Eve loses her innocence, becoming aware of the possibility of sin and sex, while Adam stays behind, eternally youthful and naïve, but despondent. How will the human race get started?  God, played by both a white man (Adam Kantor) and a black woman (Sasha Sloan), makes up His/Her rules as He/She goes along while  Eve wanders about scraping her knees and discovering the ocean.  The somewhat thin and familiar plot is helped along by a rollicking score by Tony winner Joe DiPietro and a talented, funny cast.  Jose Llana delivers a particularly inspired and hilarious portrayal of Adam, while Jennifer Blood brings oddball humor to her role as the angel Sarah.

I’ll Be Damned runs a much longer two and a quarter hours, but is sustained by its upbeat charm.  This is mostly due to the talents of exciting newcomer Jacob Hoffman, who plays Louis Foster, the sweet, flawed, desperately lonely and hopelessly dorky home-schooled hero.  (Will somebody give this kid his Equity card, please?  Music theatre needs him!)  Hoffman plays Louis with the perfect combination of intense optimism and aching vulnerability that will resonate with anyone who has at any point in his life longed for a  friend.   Because of his pitch perfect performance, Louis can do things like pull out a mirror and sing a song to himself entitled I Like You when his feelings have been hurt, and you don’t roll your eyes.  You laugh as something inside you melts.  If you’re a sap like me, you may actually cry.  (“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”  –Steel Magnolias)  His feelings have been hurt by Satan (Kurt Robbins), with whom he has signed a pact to give up his soul in exchange for a friend.   Satan goes through a cast of friend possibilities, during which the talented ensemble steps forward to shine, particularly Alison Luff and Nick Gelona.  But no one befriends Louis until Satan realizes that he actually likes Louis– as a friend, Village Voice— and banf!  Everything goes to hell.

The catchy music and witty lyrics propel the cast through one great number after another.  Kenita R. Miller stops the first act as Friendetta, the comic book character of Louis’ creation, whom Satan brings to life to find Louis a friend.  Gregory Treco steals the second act as the petulant, attention-seeking God who is sick of angels and wishes for a friend of his own.  But the show belongs to Hoffman and Mary Testa, who plays Louis’ mother.  If Testa were my mother, I would’ve happily been home schooled.

As I write this I’ll Be Damned has officially closed.  But I hope to see more from JARADOA,  a theatre company that mixes seasoned Broadway veterans like Testa with exciting young professionals like Hoffman, that balances community outreach with performance.  I’d like to see more of DePietro’s funny, inventive work.  And I think we all would like to see more  original musicals in New York.   I hope that God, despite His somewhat irreverent interpretation onstage, wills it to be so.