A Walk on the Moon
Photo: Alessandra Mello

A Walk on the Moon

A world-premiere musical at the ACT

Based on the 1999 movie of the same name
Book and additional lyrics by Pamela Gray
Music and Lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman
Directed by Sheryl Kaller
Starring Katie Brayben, Brigid O’Brien, Jonah Platt, Zak Resnick, Nick Sacks
American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco, through July 1, 2018
http://www.act-sf.org/

It seems that there are very few newly minted original musicals these days. They are either revivals or are based on existing books or movies, which provides producers and audiences with familiarity and confidence. With the exorbitant cost of producing a musical, not to mention of high price of tickets, the proclivity is understandable. But what’s lost is the creativity, innovation and distinctiveness of a spanking new theatrical experience.

In a way, the world premiere musical, “A Walk on the Moon” suffers from this tendency. Based on the 1999 Miramax and Village Roadshow Pictures motion picture of the same name, the musical recreates an earlier time and place that should appeal to a broad audience, especially to baby boomers. It’s an extremely pleasing, entertaining production with talented acting and direction, harmonious music and ingenious sets. Yet, production is a bit too homogenized, which holds it back from all it could be.

“A Walk on the Moon” is set in 1969 in a bungalow colony in the Catskills Mountains near Woodstock, New York, where lower-middle-class Jewish families spend their summers. But all of the fracas and tumult of that momentous time, from Vietnam War protests to the sexual revolution, seems to have had no apparent impact on housewife Pearl Kantrowitz (Katie Brayben), her television repairman husband, Marty (Jonah Platt) and their circle of friends from Flatbush. Pearl has her hands full with 14-year-old daughter Alison Kantrowitz (Brigid O’Brien), who longs for the freedom she perceives all around her and hears in the rock music she adores. And the Woodstock music festival is happening right down the road.

Forming the crux of the show is Pearl’s exploration of the opportunities she gave up as a result of her early pregnancy and marriage. Perhaps it was the first moon landing she watched in awe that summer that triggered the realization of the shortcomings of her life, or perhaps it was simply the sexy young salesman, the “blouse man” (Zak Resnick), who caused her to want to abandon her comfort zone and explore her sexuality — to take her own walk on the moon. But her actions cause a hurtful hiatus in the family. Here the dilemma is real and the acting is at its best.

Disappointingly, the music in “A Walk on the Moon” though pretty and pleasant, has no relationship to the music of the sixties, or the fifties, for that matter. Yes, it’s melodic, but it is generic. Where’s the beat? Why couldn’t the housewives be singing like the Supremes? Music was a large part of the era and is a large part of baby boomers’ nostalgia. This is a big omission and a missed opportunity.

Similarly, although it’s clear that the Kantrowitz family is Jewish, and some Brooklyn accents and Yiddish words make their appearance, it’s as though the producers didn’t want the show to be “too Jewish.” Some additional Jewish humor wouldn’t have hurt and it wouldn’t have detracted from the serious issues. In fact, more humor would have been effective in creating some counterpoint.

“A Walk on the Moon” has lot going for it, especially the story itself and the excellent cast. I enjoyed it; I just was hoping for more.

Emily S. Mendel
emilymendel@gmail.com
©Emily S. Mendel 2018 All Rights Reserved

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.