By Sandi Durell
Prepare yourself for a techno-music video comedy, written by multi award winning Joe DiPietro (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Memphis), as we take off on an escapade with Antarctica explorer Ernest Shackleton. Add two brilliant artists Brendan Milburn (music) and Val Vigoda (lyrics) and the performance skills of Wade McCollum and Groove Lilly’s Val Vigoda and you’ll find yourself on an adventure of laughter, amazement and surprise for 90 non-stop minutes at the Tony Kiser (2d Stage) Theatre.
The extraordinarily talented Val Vigoda is Kat, an electric violinist/singer/writer (which she actually is in real life) stressed with motherhood and a missing husband, who ran off to be in Journey’s band, and earns her money as a hi-techie composing music installations – conceptual happenings, as evidenced by the large video screen at the rear, surrounded by lots of music equipment and some scaffolding (production design by Alexander V. Nichols).
However, Kat is lonely and looking for love at Cupid’s Leftovers Dot.com, a difficult task as the instructional voice knows when she’s lying while she inputs her vital statistics . . . finally admitting to being 45, which we witness as a backdrop of colors, objects and sounds from the one-woman symphony to “Stop Rewind Play Record” and “Star Blazers,” as she lays down beats and tracks that build and repeat. To wit, she soon loses her job and in an electrical surge a picture of Ernest Shackleton appears and flickers on the screen, his voice calling Katherine, Katherine . . .
Help is on the way! In the midst, her wandering husband Bruce calls and pops up on the screen in a van. Wade McCollum plays all the male roles, including a techie, Bruce and the very loveable, wild and weird Shackelton who eventually emerges straight out of her frig in an icy moment to satisfy her plea for love. But Ernest is off on his adventure leaving her with “What woman can resist a polar explorer? . . . I, Ernest Shackleton am on my way!” In the meantime, her new dating service seems to have found some men of interest . . . Ponce De Leon is the next caller leaving her with “I have to go now and discover Florida. Adios.” He is followed by Jacques Cousteau, but that’s a wrong number. Finally, Ernest calls with a sea chanty of inspiration “We’re On Our Way.” They sing, she checks Wikipedia to discover who he was, finding his posting in a newspaper to hire a crew to accompany him on his ship, the Endurance, (1914-1917) where they sailed in freezing waters, until the ship froze in pack ice and was crushed.
But now that Ernest has found Kat (calling her his muse) she must accompany him as a beacon of hope to his men to help save them, as snow starts falling in her apartment. Yes, a lot of silliness but it’s funny and clever storytelling.
And so they adventure on together, she with her fantabulous violin and he with a banjo that just pops out of the frig, as they sing “Tipperary.” Each time they think they are saved from the ravages of the frozen waters, no food, no shelter . . . another obstacle awaits. But they make music on their way, hauling out a trunk that turns into a rowboat, the video screen alive with the sounds and actual photos of Shackleton and his men on their journey in Antarctica.
Of course she is overwhelmingly in love with him by now but when he reminds her she is only a dainty, weak woman, Kat explodes letting him know she’s a bad-ass who makes weird music installations – “Money & Musicians (& Explorers).”
And so we follow Shackleton and Kat thru Antarctica, hear some new-age music, see some terrific technology and witness some of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. Wade McCollum, with a twinkle and grin, blessed with a rich voice and good acting chops, should go on to be theater’s next new leading man while Vigoda is a genius electric violinist and actor. Thanks to director Lisa Peterson, the show vibrates and resonates with the help of Ryan O’Connell as music director and got my attention.
The take away is never give up your dreams as there’s always a catalyst to keep them alive, vivid and viable as Ernest returns to the refrigerator and Kat knows just what she and her son have to do, the video screen reading “Kat and Zach Sail the Endurance.” Never give up or give in!
You fly against the odds
Immortal as the Gods
You fail and then
You prevail again
To sail where no one’s ever been before
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me will play a limited engagement thru June 11 at Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 West 43 Street www.ernestshackletonlovesme.com
Photos: Jeff Carpenter