Raul Esparza as Galisteo. Photo: Kevin Berne.

Emily Mendel reviews “Galisteo: A Rock Musical”

a premiere at Berkeley Rep

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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The next “Hamilton?” The world premiere rock musical “Galileo”, possibly moving to Broadway, is billed as an “explosive collision of science and faith, truth and power…” But how did the opening night experience stack up to the great expectations?

Well, it nearly measures up, but it has some shortcomings that can’t be easily set aside. And that’s too bad, because one shouldn’t miss the ambitious, dramatic story of Galileo, still taught over 400 years later, the marvelously melodic cast, the fabulously artistic and colorfully lighted sets, and the stunningly creative light show projections.

Exceptionally portrayed by four-time Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza, Galileo Galilei (1564 –1642) was a brilliant mathematician, astronomer, and scientist. He used his new, advanced telescope to observe the heavens and concluded that Copernicus was right: the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as the Catholic Church insisted. At first, Galileo’s friendship with Bishop Maffeo Barberini (excellent Jeremy Kushnier), who later became Pope Urban VIII, protected Galileo. But then the Pope betrayed him for political and personal reasons caused by Galileo’s hubris. Galileo was punished with house arrest, and his heliocentric teachings were banned for the remainder of his life.

Seeing “Galileo” didn’t increase my understanding and knowledge of the man himself. Perhaps there isn’t much more known about the inner Galileo than we saw on stage. And the creators wisely didn’t veer too far from the known biography. Galileo’s relationship with his daughter/scientist Virginia (outstanding Madalynn Mathews) did humanize Galileo, but that relationship suffered from its own clichés.

It may be problematic for 21st-century audiences to understand Galileo’s religious convictions considering his punishment and banishment by the Church. And daughter Virginia, whose life was also ruined by the Church’s treatment of her father, became a nun who gradually adapted to her life in the convent.

As a production, despite the glamor and glitter on stage, “Galileo” lacked musical and choreographic diversity, which made it seem more like an opera than a rock musical. The songs, with sophisticated lyrics and melodic tunes, seemed similar in tone. The modest dancing appeared more of an afterthought than an integral and artistic aspect of the evening.

But the “Galileo” creators are certainly a talented bunch who created a gorgeous production. Directed by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening,” “American Idiot,” “Swept Away”), written by two-time Emmy winner Danny Strong (“Dopesick,” “Empire,” “The Butler”), score and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Zoe Sarnak, with choreography by David Neumann, scenic design by Rachel Hauck, and projection design by Jason H. Thompson.

Galileo runs through June 23, 2024, at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. It is approximately two hours and 30 minutes long, plus one intermission. Masks are encouraged but optional for performances from Wednesday through Saturday. Mask-wearing is required in the theatre on all Sundays (matinees and evenings) and Tuesdays except June 18–23). Post-show discussions, pride night, and closed captioning are available at specific performances. Tickets starting at $29.50–$139, plus a $9 order fee, subject to change, can be purchased online at https://www.berkeleyrep.org/shows/galileo/ or by phone at 510.647.

This article was originally published by Berkeleyside
By Emily S. Mendel
© Emily S. Mendel 2024 All Rights Reserved emilymendel@gmail.com

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