by Adam Cohen. . .
The new musical currently at the George Street Playhouse, “A Walk on the Moon,” is visually stunning, aurally lush, and vibrant. Filled with glorious performances – especially while singing – the show is an entertaining mind-check. Set in summer 1969, with Woodstock around the corner, the Kantrowitz family has a Catskills summer vacation that transforms them all forever.
Having to stay in New York for work during the week, Marty (Jonah Platt) sees his family only on weekends. Pearl (Jackie Burns) feels lonely, isolated, as if she missed a decade. She got pregnant at the age of 17 and quickly married Marty. And as mother to 15-year-old Allison (Carly Gendell) and first grader Danny (Cody Braverman), Pearl put her personal desires on the shelf. Marty wanted to be a scientist but he’s a television repairman, racing to the Catskills on weekends hoping to beat the other father’s and husband’s times. Pearl wanted to be a journalist. And her marriage is up-ended with the charming blouse man’s flirtation.
All the right elements are hard at work in the production. The cast is excellent, particularly Burns, her character torn between a dull marriage to her over-worked, conventionally bland husband. Gendell shines as Alison balancing concern for the world with young adulthood and romance. Burns and Gendell’s powerful, emotionally nuanced singing are A Walk on the Moon’s strongest assets. Gendell gets the script’s best zingers, delivered with plenty of rebellious teen spirit as she complains about complacency toward Washington politics and the Vietnam War. Her characterization along with Wesley Zurich’s Ross give their blooming relationship ample chemistry and potential. He’s a sweet Jewish boy who improvises folk songs that capture the burgeoning of both political awareness perfectly suited for young romantics of the time. Maya Jacobson’s Myra, perhaps gets the fullest and most consistent character arc, as an Orthodox Jew who befriends Allison and transforms under the spell of Woodstock. She graces us with a fine performance. In fact, the three teens offer equally big voices to Burns with magnetic presence.
John Arthur Green, as the blouse man Walker, is given little to do. His salesmanship and charm is well rendered. But his motivations beyond moving west to protest the war, particularly his missing in action brother are fuzzy and muted. The character is a catalyst but the creators leave him stranded as an after-thought. Platt is a strong singer and steadfast as cuckolded husband and father.
Visually, the production is beautiful, with bucolic mind-expanding projections and sets. Apt period-perfect 1960s costumes by Linda Cho, and nuanced lighting design by Robert Wierzel that features color-shifting skyscapes that amplify the drama’s changing moods. Director Sheryl Kaller weaves it all together in a promising production.
From its opening juxtaposition promise summer amid quaint woodland cabins and riotous national tumult, A Walk On the Moon throws down its own gauntlet, inviting audiences to wonder how the era’s broad social changes will manifest amid the Kantrowitzes and their clan.
The music and lyrics are by Paul Scott Goodman and AnnMarie Milazza, with lyrics and book by Pamela Gray, adapted from Gray’s script for the 1999 film of the same name. Feminist musical, 60’s sexual awakening tale, 50’s doo-wop are on hand pleasantly and entertainingly.
Emotional solos highlight the housewife’s dilemma and adolescent angst amidst the Age of Aquarius. Burns and Gendell handle these numbers with relish and aplomb. Group songs relish Mah Jong and thumb its nose at Betty Freidan.
By story’s end, what earlier seemed like an eminent nuclear family meltdown has been averted to the Twlight Zone where ambiguity would better serve than faithfulness to the movie. Following the emotionally charged Woodstock moment, are three ambitious deeply affecting musical numbers that allow the ample talents of Burns, Gendell, and Platt to reach past the moon. Oddly the book doesn’t match the musical talent and leaves the leads in character turns that don’t land and let the audience down.
See it for the great casting, strong group musical numbers and arresting visuals.
Tickets and more information at https://georgestreetplayhouse.org – thru May 21
Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Lead Photo: (L to R) Dan Rosales; Stephanie Lynne Mason; David R. Gordon; Blair Goldberg; Carly Gendell; Jill Abramovitz; Cody Braverman; Jackie Burns; Jonah Platt; Megan Kane; & Jonathon Timpanelli