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‘Invisible Thread’ review: Director Diane Paulus’ latest

Michael Luwoye and Adeola Role in

Michael Luwoye and Adeola Role in "Invisible Thread," a new musical at Second Stage about a New Yorker in Uganda, directed by Diana Paulus. Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Invisible Thread”

WHERE Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

INFO $65-90; 212-246-4422; 2st.com

BOTTOM LINE Plot-heavy, repetitious musical about good intentions.

Griffin Matthews is a disillusioned out-of-work New York actor who gets kicked out of his church choir for being gay. Matt Gould is his lover, a would-be composer whose happy life with Jewish parents, he complains, has left him with nothing interesting to express. So in 2005 Matthews volunteers in Uganda, about which he knows nothing, and, despite his lack of income or career, Gould soon makes the costly trip to join him.

Or so it is told in “Invisible Thread,” the musical Matthews and Gould wrote about their journey of self-discovery, social commitment and, apparently, professional fulfillment. Now Matthews gets to star as a character named Griffin in their story, and the composer is up on the catwalk conducting their music. And no one less than Diane Paulus — superstar director of “Pippin,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Finding Neverland” and the hit revival of “Hair” — chose to direct the show, then titled “Witness Uganda,” at her prestigious American Repertory Theater in Cambridge and now Off-Broadway at Second Stage.

After all that, it would be lovely to be able to say that their valuable experience has been transformed into a comparably worthy musical. Paulus has staged an admirably unflashy production that whisks us from New York locations to Africa with not much more than a red-dirt floor, split-screen juxtapositions and well-chosen projections.

What we are meant to embrace in this fishes-out-of-water story is the heart, exemplified by a repeated lyric describing an “invisible thread around my head and around your heart.” Alas, for much of the plot-heavy yet repetitious evening, Griffin and Ryan (Corey Mach) seem so clueless about the world and so self-involved that, by the time we learn of their genuine accomplishments, it is too late to like them.

Most songs have the plaintive lilt of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” though with banal lyrics, and interspersed with reverberant African chant and a showstopping churchy spiritual. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography includes quasi-African movement in which arms and legs seem to shoot joyfully from the back of the spine.

The large cast plays a variety of young Africans, most memorably Michael Luwoye as a man yearning to get out of the corrupt village compound and Adeola Role as his sister, a woman whose past and whose cynicism about do-good Americans suggest a story more compelling than the one onstage.

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