|ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME|
The engaging and original comic musical “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” now at the Tony Kiser Theatre, is definitely a respite from some of the recent sub-standard adaptations of popular films and books littering the theatrical landscape. Playwright Joe DiPietro’s book is quite witty, with a wonderful pro-feminist message, the score by Val Vigoda and Brendan Milburn is smart and tuneful, and the scenic design – heavy on the projections – by Alexander V. Nichols is exceedingly clever.
And yet, the show’s 90 minutes just don’t fly by as fast as might be expected. In fact, you can’t help sometimes feeling that you’re watching an overly elongated “Saturday Night Live” sketch. In part, like many a “SNL” sketch, the show’s premise is still a bit of thin ice, no matter how well the super-talented Wade McCollum and Vigoda skate on it! (It may also be because McCollum seems to be channeling Will Ferrell as much as the title character.)
On one frigid night, Kat (Vigoda), a 40something broke quasi-single mother/musician in Brooklyn – who is decidedly beyond the point of exhaustion -- discovers she’s lost a major job scoring a video game; deals with the inevitable break-up with her guitar-playing loser boyfriend Bruce (another fine turn by McCollum); and tries a new last-chance dating service – where she’s supposedly contacted by the long-dead Shackleton.
A bit of a cockeyed optimist, a (seeming) true gentleman with a rugged nature and sensitive spirit, Shackleton is the polar opposite of Bruce and the other unreliable 21st-century men Val comes in contact with. So it’s no surprise that she agrees to join him on the treacherous, consistently life-threating exploration of the Antarctic that occupied three years of his life. (If you any knowledge of history, or access to Wikipedia, it’s not a spoiler to say that he survived this challenging trek.)
One of director Lisa Peterson’s biggest challenges is incorporating Vigoda and Milburn’s songs, good as they can be, into DiPietro’s script, which might be able to work on its own as a shorter one-act. Even when the tunes don’t flow (or is that floe?) super-smoothly into the action, it’s still a treat to hear them -- not to mention Vigoda’s peerless playing of the electric violin. (I particularly enjoyed Kat’s opening number, “Stop, Play, Rewind, Record”.)
In joining Shackleton on his voyage – again even in her sleep-deprived mind – Val finds her own heart and courage (she already has the brain). More important, she discovers the will to move on with her life. As for whether you should join her: I see no Broadway future for “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” so interested parties should jump aboard this ship while they can.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Wade Mccollum and Valerie Vigoda
Tony Kiser Theatre
305 West 43rd Street
Neighborhood: West 40s
New York, NY 10036