AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATRE ENDS ITS 50th SEASON WITH A TRIP BACK TO THE GROOVY SUMMER OF LOVE
THE SUPERB NEW MUSICAL
‘A WALK ON THE MOON’ SWEEPS US BACK TO 1969 MOONWALK AND WOODSTOCK
Those fabulous '60s get another warm shout out in the new musical A WALK ON THE MOON, that brings Woodstock, and the Apollo 11 center stage. Now making its world premiere on stage at the American Conservatory Theatre Geary stage through July 1. Based on the 1999 Miramax film the story sweeps us back to 1969 and a summer in the Catskills. The creative team for A WALK ON THE MOON includes the original film writer, Pamela Gray, Music by Paul Scott Goodman and Director Sheryl Kaller. I was most impressed by the music of blues and country; pop songs that are a mix of fun, period rock and some inspired by the Woodstock feel. The story opens with the banner song “First Saturday Night of the Summer” featuring eye catching video clips, and the main players of this stunning cast.
It is the summer of 1969: Apollo 11-- Neil Armstrong will land on the moon on July 21, war protests, the sexual revolution, drugs, and rock & roll explodes at Woodstock just down the road from Kantrowitz’ summer home. Pearl Kantrowitz played by the accomplished Katie Brayben, a Jewish housewife and mother vacationing with her family at the Folger's Bungalows Catskills summer camp. Brayben is pitch perfect as she sings “Out of this World” that sets her tone wanting more out of her drab housewife life. Her daughter, teen anxed Alison, played by the polished Brigid O’Brien, sings some of the best anthem songs including “Feeling Feelings” with Nina Kissinger who plays Myra, her Halakhah Jewish teen friend.
The loyal husband Marty played by the dapper Johah Platt fresh from “Wicked”, now a TV repairman who works in the city and visits only on weekends. Platt sings the fun song “Dancing with You”, with the other husbands. Pearl feels cheated on life because of her early motherhood, then enters Walker Jerome played by local favorite Zak Resnick. Walker is a handsome hippie who sells blouses to the Catskills’ women. Resnick shows off his superb voice as he sings “Something New” to the star struck wives and, of course, Pearl is won over. The other budding romance is between the two teens Ross and Alison; one of the bright spots of this two hour musical. Ross played by the charming Nick Sacks direct from “Evan Hansen”, steals the stage with his wonderful guitar and voice in “Hey Mr President”. Both O’Brien and Sacks highlight the first act in their song “Go” that confirms their budding relationship.
Pearl’s mother-in-law Lillian played by the elegant Kerry O’Malley warns her not to stray, but Pearl and Walker the "Blouse Man" are soon enjoying each others company and running off to Woodstock. They both sing “World Spins Around” and show off their marvelous timing and summer of love energy. The housewives have a weekly gossip session over a game of Mah Jongg, Pearl sits with her friends Rhoda (Monique Hafen), Eleanor (Ariela Morgenstern), and Bunny (Molly Hager) and mother-in-law Lillian in a 50’s classic doo-wop, sound as they sing “World Without Men”. The women are clear they can make anything work without their men. They have a wonderful sound under Greg Kenna’s music direction and vocal coach Christine Adaire. Yet when this drama drifts into soap opera, the actors restore the balance. This is a terrific cast, Platt stands out as the husband who may lose the battle to save his marriage, but does his best to show his love to his kids. On the porch of their bungalow, Marty is the one who turns on the radio to lead his wife in a dance to music that catches that Woodstock change.
Under the direction of Sheryl Kaller, she brings, for the most part, a local cast that shines, yet it is not very diverse. Of course, Jewish summers in the Catskills are not full of diversity but the blouse salesman who changes Pearl’s life could have been of color. Resnick gives the part his all, and Walker’s solo “Unexpected” is a show stopper. Jeffrey Brian Adams, Jake Bronson and Vincent Randazzo fill out the superb cast as the husbands and other male roles.
The creative team includes Josh Prince clever choreography featured in the number “Dancing with You” with the male cast. Director Kaller uses riveting video projections created by Tal Yarden to progress the story and tell of the family's many firsts. The moonlight moods created by lighting designer Robert Wierzel are impressive since the moon is highlighted during all the evening scenes. The moving forest of trees and family cabins are eye catching designed by Donyale Werle; his sets kept the two hour musical moving. The forest of moon lit trees literally dance into place and are the perfect setting for Pearl and Walker and the two teens to fall in love.
Young Sacks plays a live guitar for most of his songs while flirting with Alison. The other youngest player in the cast is the frisky Elijah Cooper fresh from the Berkeley Playhouse production of RAGTIME. Copper and Nate Wayne share the part of 10 year old Danny who does his best to keep his family together and provide the important arch to the story in the second act.
A highlight is the entire cast watching Neil Armstrong's moon walk all seated together sing “Landed”. “We’ll all be walking on the moon, nothing will ever be the same.” Linda Cho costumes fit the 60’s era keeping the teens in authentic summer wear, and Walker’s hippie feel colorful and breezy. Yarden’s video projections continue to highlight the visual beauty of this musical showing scenes of 1969 summer of love, and the dark side of Vietnam mixed with the loving sounds of Woodstock.
The sold out opening night had the crowd on their feet at shows end. This new work captures an emotional journey of self-discovery and the end of the 60’s as a new era of the American Dream begins. Pamela Gray’s story reflects her own times back in the Catskills; ACT has a summer hit and is sure to sell out, and make its mark on Broadway in the near future. Congrats to ACT’s wonderful 50th season, it has been impressive. Next season new artistic director Pam Mackinnon opens the fall season with SWEAT that begins Sept 26th. But in the meantime join the Kantrowitz’ family for the summer of love.
American Conservatory Theatre Presents a World-Premiere
A WALK ON THE MOON
Book by Pamela Gray, Music by Paul Scott Goodman
Based on the film A Walk On The Moon, written by Pamela Grey
Directed by Sheryl Kaller, Music Director Greg Kenna
Closes July 1, 2018
405 Geary Street, San Francisco.
Tickets are available online at http://www.act-sf.org/
or by calling the box office 415-749-2228.
Photos by Kevin Berne