RANDY NEWMAN’S FAUST, Goodman Theatre. Randy Newman describes his Faust as having “none of the dignity and profundity of the original.” If by “the original” he means Goethe’s Faust, which he follows closely, he’s dead wrong on the first count, as Walter Kaufmann’s 1961 translation made clear: Goethe’s monumental drama is a treasure chest of salacious irreverence, manifesting in Kaufmann’s words “an overwhelming disrespect for etiquette and almost every thinkable propriety.” By contrast Newman’s utterly conventional attempt at irreverence, made all the more orthodox by Michael Greif’s collegiate staging, seems calculated to reinforce mainstream consumerist taste. There’s even a musical number devoted to making fun of plaid polyester suits.

But Newman is painfully on the mark when it comes to assessing his own profundity. He denies a character whose moral dilemma has captivated the Western imagination for centuries any moral agency; it’s a bit like giving Hamlet a sunny disposition. Newman’s Faust is a slacker freshman at Notre Dame who wants and does next to nothing despite incidental musical protestations of desiring power, money, and love. Major decisions–pursuing Margaret, duping Margaret’s mother, killing Margaret’s sister–are all made for him by divine or satanic intervention, leaving Faust with no accountability and the play with no stakes. A barrage of hummable musical numbers and fancy spinning set pieces can’t disguise this show’s resounding irrelevance.

–Justin Hayford