By Stanford Friedman
Mellowness is not normally a condition associated with the sectioning off of East Berlin from the West in 1961. But, in the hands of composer Graham Russell, a founding member of the laid back 1980’s superband Air Supply, there is plenty of soft rock to smooth the barbed wire of the Berlin Wall and ease the shattered lives of the three brothers and their loved ones who sing their way to togetherness in A Wall Apart.
Romance driven by geopolitics makes for a risky venture and, despite solid performances throughout, the creators never quite find a proper balance. Generally, they err on the side of sibling rivalries and lovey dovey-ness. Mickey (Josh Tolle) is an upcoming rock and roller who digs all things western. He is soon to marry Suzanne (Emily Behny), a worker at his favorite bar, the Bunker. Hans (Darren Ritchie) is the stern, eldest brother, a border guard at the wall who apparently has no time for love. And then there is Kurt (Jordan Bondurant) the middle brother who is more conservative than Mickey, more liberal than Hans, and less interesting than either. For reasons unapparent, Suzanne’s friend Esther (Maddie Shea Baldwin) falls hard for Kurt. They would be inseparable except for, well, you know.
The story of the Berlin Wall itself, of course, goes on for decades. This unfortunate reality creates the need for a lengthy jump in time in the show’s closing scenes. It is handled awkwardly with one of the characters essentially stepping out of the play to do a where-are-they-now, 28 years later, summation, paired with a hard to swallow development that leads to Kurt and Esther finding a secret room within the wall where they can be alone. The book, by Sam Goldstein and Craig Clyde, has other troubles as well with its humorous moments more cute than funny, and dialog that is less natural than it is expositional. When Kurt asks Esther about her parents, she provides the kind of response that sounds like we should be taking out our pencils, “My mother was a German refugee who came to America in 1934. She was a ballet dancer and met my father in Washington D.C. He’s a diplomat and was assigned to Berlin in 1949, when I was ten.”
The charismatic Mr. Tolle seems best suited to this score, finding the pop charm in a wedding song, “Do You Mind if I Adore You,” and gleefully shouting his way through what naturally comes next: “We’re Having a Baby.” Ms. Baldwin gets the lion’s share of the numbers and handles them with ease, though they would have had much more impact if we had better insight into why she is so dedicated to her dull man. Director/Choreographer Keith Andrews conjures several ensemble dance numbers that are invigorating despite the fact that the chorus members carry around, twirl and slam tall wooden planks. Presumably, a pas de deux with concrete blocks would have been crossing the line.
A Wall Apart – Book by Sam Goldstein & Craig Clyde; Music and Lyrics by Graham Russell; Directed and Choreographed by Keith Andrews.
WITH: Maddie Shea Baldwin (Esther), Leslie Becker (Tante), Emily Behny (Suzanne), Jordan Bondurant (Kurt), Darren Ritchie (Hans), Matt Rosell (Mickey Jr.), Josh Tolle (Mickey), Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris and Vincent Ortega.
David Goldstein, Set & Lighting Design; Shannon Epstein, Sound Design; Jonathan Ivie, Music Direction and Arrangements. Stage Manager: Sofia Montgomery. The New York Musical Festival at The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W 42nd St., 212 352 3101, http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/wall-apart/. Saturday, July 29, at 5:00 pm, Sunday, July 30 at 5:30 pm and 9:00 pm. Running time: 2 hours.